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A Pleasure in Pain: Contemporary Mainstream


Cinema's Fascination with the Aestheticized
Spectacle of the Controlled Body

by

Steven William Allen

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree


in
Philosophy
Film
Television
Doctor
Studies
of
and
of

University of Warwick, Department of Film and Television Studies


December 2003

Contents
List of illustrations

Acknowledgments

Declaration

Abstract

Abbreviations

Introduction

10

1. Situating the Controlled Body

25

2. Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and


Sadomasochism(BDSNt) at the Movies

54

3. Body Modification: Beauty and the Pleasuresof the Modifiable Flesh

119

4. The Cinematic Art of Serial Killers

186

5. Playing with Control

258

Conclusion

324

Bibliography

337

Primary Filmography

357

Secondary Filmography

360

Discography

371

DVI)s

372

Exhibitions and Works of Art

373

Radio Programmes

375

Television Programmes

376

Video Games

378

List of illustrations
0.1

Spectacle of suffering in David Blaine: Frozen in Time

2.1

Advertising the spankingdelights of Donovan's Reef

59

2.2

Chastising the flapper girl in Girl Shy

60

2.3

Flash Gordon spread-eagledin the static room in Flash Gordon

62

2.4

Lobby card showing Nyoka trapped in Perils ofNyoka

62

2.5

Rex Bennettunder the buzz saw in SecretServicein Darkest Aftica

62

2.6

Advertising the BDSM of Pigs is Pigs

67

2.7

Lee Holloway mastering masochism in Secretary

80

2.8

Investigating male suffering via the pretext of female suffering in 8mm

89

2.9

Explicitly linking BDSM and snuff in 8mm

91

2.10 Aestheticized death awaiting Max California in 8mm

97

2.11 Discreetly censored version of Bob Flanagan as Superynasochiston the


cover of Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist by Juno and Vale (1993)

106

2.12 Bob Flanagan offering an alternative version of masculinity in Sick: The


Life and Death ofBob Flanagan, Supermasochist

109

2.13 Bob Flanagan's The Scaffold reveals the multiplicity of BDSM sexuality
in Sick: The Life and Death ofBob Flanagan, Supermasochist
2.14 Bob and Sheree's contract being signed by Sheree on Bob's body in
Sick The Life and Death ofBob Flanagan, Supermasochist

115

3.1

Tattoos as memory in Memento

124

3.2

Captivated by the image of tattoos in The Illustrated Man

128

3.3

Male bodies as canvasesin Tattoo

130

3.4

Showing abject disgust at coercive body modification in Tattoo

135

3.5

Body modification reflecting the suffering of the serial killer's victim in


The Cell

138

-2-

3.6

Fakir Musafar hangsfrom flesh hooks (Modern Primitives: An


Investigation of ContemporaryAdornment & Ritual by Juno
Vale
(I 989b))
and

138
139

3.7

Captain Howdy undergoesO-Kee-Pain Strangeland

3.8

Fakir Musafar undergoesO-Kee-Pa(Modern Primitives: An Investigation


139
989b))
(I
Vale
by
Juno
Contemporary
&
Ritual
Adornment
and
of

3.9

Statuesquebeauty in Boxing Helena

147

3.10 Helena as a deity of defonnity in Boxing Helena

149

3.11 Woman in the Blue Hat (1985) by Joel-Peter Witkin

151

3.12 Bruise colour schemeof Crash

159

3.13 Rigid containmentof the wound in Crash

164

3.14 Sexualized spectacle of pain (1) - James Ballard in Crash

165

3.15 Sexualizedspectacleof pain (11)- Yukaon her bed with orthopaedic


bandages
by
(1994)
Romain
Slocombe
collar and

165

3.16 Freeway of cars in Crash

170

3.17 Leg of scarsin Crash

170

3.18 Confronting disability and sexuality in Crash

177

3.19 Scar as pseudo-genital organ in Crash

182

4.1

FBI pin board gallery of suffering in The Silence of the Lambs

201

4.2

Peter Foley's personal gallery of suffering, including Helen Hudson,


the 'pin-up girl' of serial killers, in Copycat

201

4.3

TheCamdenTownMurder(natShallWeDoFortheRent?

)(1908)

by Walter Sickert

203

4.4

Sexual Murder (1922) by Otto Dix (original in colour)

203

4.5

Anatomy of a Seated Woman (late 18'hcentury) by Andre-Pierre Pinson

205

4.6

Smugglerius (Ecorche ofMan in the Pose of the 'Dying Gaul) by


William Pink

205

4.7

Murder scene as modernist canvas in "ite

216

4.8

Framing the serial killer's artwork at the Greed murder scenein Se7en

-3-

of the Eye

217

4.9

Iconic tableau of suffering in TheSilence of the Lambs

228

4.10 Inspecting the suffering of 'St Elmo' in Blowback

231

4.11 Amalgam of suffering in the crucified body in Resurrection

236

4.12 Overcomeby the venerableiconographyof pain in Resurrection

236

4.13 Plastination with Skin by Gunthervon Hagens

238

4.14 Attack on Rinaldo Pazzi silhouetted against a painting showing his


in
death
Hannibal
ancestor's

240

4.15 Rinaldo Pazzi in a recreationof his ancestor'sdeathamidst the artistic


heritageof Florencein Hannibal

240

4.16 Artistic inspiration for murder in The Bone Collector

242

4.17 Staged recreation of death in The Bone Collector

242

4.18 Victor resembling an ecorche at the Sloth murder scene in Se7en

253

4.19 Attempting to make the hairs on the back of the spectator's neck stand
in
Se
7en
head
by
Gluttony
the
the
at
murder scene
up
examining

253

4.20 Christmas tree-shaped air fresheners suggesting smell and conceptual


in
Se7en
Sloth
the
murder scene
art at

255

Visually coded information of a usable object in the video game


Resident Evil - Code: Veronica X

275

5.2

Replicating the video game colour scheme in the film Resident Evil

275

5.3

Repeating the ordeal of dying in the video game Resident Evil - Code:
Veronica X

280

Climbing between balconies and fire escapesin the video game Tomb
Raider: Angel ofDarkness

285

5.5

Replicating the climbing from a platform video game in The Game

285

5.6

Discovery of a usableobject in The Game

286

5.7

Discovering the use for the usableobject in The Game

286

5.8

Scrutinizing and isolating the usableobj ect in The Game

287

5.9

Emphasizingthe usableobject in The Game

287

5.1

5.4

5.10 Knowing look of sharedpain in Fight Club

-4-

305

5.11 Ecstasyof suffering in Fight Club

307

5.12 Post-fight/coital relaxation in Fight Club

311

5.13 Christ-like Tyler Durden and his disciples in Fight Club

314

5.14 Kiss-shapedscar of sharedaffection and suffering in Fight Club

317

5.15 Aestheticizedsuffering - the batteredbody of Tyler Durden in Fight Club 318


5.16 Is that what a man looks like? The increasingly damagedbody of Jack in
Fight Club

318

6.1

325

Gallery of tattooed human skins in Tattoo (2002)

-5-

Acknowledgments
issues
into
forays
initial
I am indebted to Richard Dyer for not only encouragingmy
he
MA
the
iconography
course
of
part
as
suffering
and aestheticized
of religious
his
but
Warwick,
University
Italian
supportive
the
also
taugh on
of
at
cinema
7t

during
insights
my
the
invaluable
of
writing
guidance
and efficacious
comments,
Film
Department
and
Thanks
the
of
thesis.
also goes to the staff and students of
Television Studies at the University of Warwick for their suggestions in response to
lecture
based
on part of my research.
my
I am extremely grateful to Richard Fryer, Jaakko Sepptild and Helen Wheatley

for their valuable commentsand help in tracking down those hard to find items. To
Keeley Smith, I give special thanks for her assistancein preparing the final draft and
the loan of unpublished material. In addition, I express my thanks to the Arts and
Humanities Research Board for the postgraduate award that enabled me to research
and write my thesis.
I would also like to acknowledge the encouragement of my family, and thank
Rathbone for making me smile. Most of all though, I wish to thank my partner Sarah
Dunlop, who encouraged me to continue my studies beyond my first degree, and has

kind
big
hugs, whilst
words, cups of coffee and
subsequentlysupported me with
providing advice, unpaid editorial services, and timely suggestions,without which
been
have
thesis
completed.
my
would not

-6-

Declaration
I hereby declare that the material included in this thesis has not been used in any
is
the
The
has
been
therefore
thesis
all
other capacity, and
not
published elsewhere.
author's own work, and has not been submitted for a degree at any other university.

-7-

Abstract
body
This thesis considersthe ways in which the dominated, marked and suffering
(the controlled body) has been representedand employed in recent mainstream
depict
of
the
from
Noting
that
alleviation
and
escape
cinema.
a shift
narratives
influences
it
and
highlight
the
torment to onesthat
probes
subjection and endurance,
implications of the change.
The project employs an interdisciplinary approachthat utilizes discoursesfrom
in
history
textual
analysis,
with
conjunction
cultural
studies
anthropology, art
and
in
to
pain outside psychoanalytically
rethink a pleasure
and consequently attempts
informed theories. The thesis argues that diverse images of pain can be usefully
by
understood
examining them as part of a collective negotiation of the relationship
in
bodies
in
have
Western
respect of agency and
culture, especially
we
with our
fuse
fascination
for
Identifying
that
concepts of pain and
activities
a
corporeality.
body
in
modification, artwork and extreme
pleasure,
particular sadomasochism,
heavily
from
body
borrows
these sources
the
that
the
study argues
controlled
sports,
for its imagery but typically understates the social motivations of masochistic
pleasure and assertion of autonomy.
The research uncovers a range of narrative strategies that justify depictions of
in
deflect
implication
(especially
that
the
men)
masochism
of pleasurable pain whilst
formulating
it
identity.
investigates
It
how
simultaneously
as part of personal
pain
death
the
to
and
closeness
are used to convey a vitality of existence, and also,
through an analysis of the spectacle and the narrative patterns in recent films, offers
how
Furthermore,
the
the
texts.
the
spectator engages with
an appreciation of
iconography of pain and control is shown to be important in our conceptualization of
beauty, whilst the personal appropriation of suffering can be interpreted as an
affirmative

The
degrees
thesis
therefore
that,
reveals
choice.
with varying
of

has
broached
contemporary anxieties regarding selfexplicitness, mainstream cinema
determination and identity through the representation of the controlled body.

-8-

Abbreviations
BASE

Building, Antennae,Span,Earth

BBC

British BroadcastingCorporation

BBFC

British Board of Film Classification

BDSM

Bondageand Discipline, Dominanceand Submission,and


Sadomasochism

CCTV

Closed-circuit Television

CD-ROM

CompactDisc Read-Only Memory

CF

Cystic Fibrosis

FBI

FederalBureauof Investigation

FMV

Full Motion Video

IV

Intra-venous

LWT

London WeekendTelevision

MTV

Music Television

PC

PersonalComputer

S&M

Sadomasochism

S/M

Sadomasochism

SM

Sadomasochism

SWAT

SpecialWeaponsand Tactics

tx.

Transmissiondate

WIP

Women in Prison

-9-

Introduction
As I write, David Blaine has just completed forty-four days suspendedin a plastic
box over the Thames, surviving only on water. In part one of the television
his
he
(2003)
Below
David
Blaine:
Above
reasorung:
the
expressed
programme
'becauseI wanna feel'.
In Harry Houdini's similar feats one hundred years earlier, escapology was

David
With
himself.
he
interest
lay
in
how
The
would extricate
spectator's
pivotal.
Blaine, we witness a strikingly different emphasis, one that is replicated in the
Blaine,
films.
For
in
depictions
mainstream
contemporary
of restraint and control
for
him
it
is
the
the challenge of submission and endurance.
objective;
escape is not
But it is not entirely a personal pleasure; Blaine also states, 'I love making people
Below,
2,2003),
(in
David
Blaine:
Above
the
and we appear to
part
watch suffering'

be fascinated.
In Blaine's most spectacularfeat of endurance,he stood bare-chestedentombed
in ice for nearly sixty-two hours in New York's Times Square (figure 0.1). 1 In
addition to the event, the newspaper eoverage and resulting television programme,
David Blaine: Frozen in Time (2001), placed great weight on his punishing
2

fascination
have
The
therefore
to
transferred from
preparations.
spectator's
appears
watching Houdini's avoidance of suffering to observing not only the ability to
but
That
the
the
spectacularizing
of
painful
survive
ordeal,
also
pursuits.
we, and
fundamental
in
is
Blaine,
take
the
to my thesis, for
pain
pleasure
performers such as

it is the presenceof such themesand depictions in contemporarymainstreamcinema


1The stunt is reminiscent of one of Houdini's film serials, The Man From Beyond (Burton King,
USA, 1922), where a man is discovered frozen in a block of ice. Further, Houdini had hoped to tour
in
ice,
but
faced
him
being
logistical
based
encased
on
problems with regard to it melting.
with an act
2 For example, a profile of David Blaine in the Sunday Timesstated: 'To prepare for his latest
stunt,
Blaine submergedhimself in icy water for 12 hours, fasted for four days and learnt to sleep standing,
(Anonymous 2000,17). In articles printed at the beginning and at the end of Blaine's feat, George
Gordon in the Daily Mail stressedthe sametwelve-hour period spent in the icy water (2000a, II and
2000b, 17), whilst David Blaine: Frozen in Time depicted it.

-10-

Figure 0.1 Spectacle of suffering in David Blaine: Frozen in Time

that form the corpus of my study.


The central proposition of this research is that in the last twenty years, a number
films
have
begun
between
body,
to
the
of
chart a new association
pain and pleasure.
Encompassing motion pictures featuring major movie stars, for example Fight Club
(David Fincher, USA/Gennany,

1999) starring Brad Pitt, notorious films, for

instance Boxing Helena (Jennifer Chambers Lynch, USA, 1993), and crossover art
cinema, such as Secretary (Steven Shainberg, USA, 2002), these films are all
body
The
the
orientated around
representation of painful
control.
relationship finds
in
body,
but draws on a
the
its source society's radical contemporary conceptions of
historical legacy of aestheticized suffering. These cinematic representations I call the
body.
controlled
in
for
it
the
quite
a
strict
am using
phrase
way,
relates to an increasingly
late-industrial,
in
trend
our
consumerist society: one that seesthe body as a
prevalent
for
In
via
pain.
an age when more and more regulations are
asserting control
site
individual,
imposed
freedom
the
upon
and personal
seemingly
and self-determination

for
demand
the
some method of asserting mastery has become
are restricted.

bucking
form
the
takes
of
Rather
the
than
usually
resistance
pronounced.
anarchy,
But
inspector.
these
are
dodging
acts
ticket
the system: smashinga speedcameraor
a
human
The
inexact
merely
reactions rather than personal assertionsof autonomy.
body affords a more direct meansof imposing your will. As a malleable entity, the
body offers the opportunity to be styled to personaltaste,but more than just fashion,
the control over the body confronts the issue of the right to physical intervention: a
institutional
to
corporeal resistance
authority and a confirmation of selthood via

intense pain. Blaine's stunts, with their emphasis on endurance and masochistic
pleasure, are symptomatic of this trend.
David Morgan, in his study 'Pain: The Unrelieved Condition of Modernity',
have
that
argues
whilst previous generations
sought to reconcile suffering and

disaster with moral expectations of life, in late modernity we are faced with a
from
disassociated
'representations
of pain and suffering are
ethical
situation where
for
is
(2002,307).
His
the
quest
and political contexts and
meaning'
reasoning that
the experience of pain has been both medicalized and privatized, therefore removing
it from the context of morality. Thus:
Because modem medicine can effectively alleviate discomfort and pain, the
disappears
between
two powerful
moral and social embodiment of suffering
discourses which assume that pain is solely a function of having a body, and
is
devoid
that
suffering
of existential and ethical significance once
relatedly
its symptoms have been clinically relieved. (2002,314)
For Morgan, grounding suffering in purely physical stimuli denies its significance,
he
he
is
classifies as part of 'the cultural
and
critical of contemporary cinema, which

(2002,320).
films
The
discussed
in detail in
and
pain'
of
violence
commodification
in
to
a current groundswell
cultural activities that attempt to
my study correspond

It
be
the transcendentalsignificance that
meaning.
may
not
reinvigorate pain with
Morgan seeslate modernity being devoid of, but the films do attempt to wrestle away
12-

he
from
institutionalized
correctly
the anaesthetized,medicalized, and
suffering
pain
notes suffusesthe Westernworld.
That pain might have positive properties is no revelation. Pain and pleasurehave
history,
from
throughout
the ecstasiesof martyred saints and the religious
coincided
flagellants to the writings of de Sadeand Sacher-Masoch.The iconographiesthese
inspire inflect my study of mainstream contemporary cinema, but newer practices

define it. In the past twenty years, a number of intertwined activities have
I

(re)surfaced as highly visible popular pursuits, and in these, displayed pain and
is
integral.
Some involve a confrontation with corporeal suffering within the
control
realm of art. Exhibitions such as Spectacular Bodies (2000-2001) and K6rperwelten
(Body Worlds) (2002-2003) have revelled in the display of bodies in various stages
have
dismembennent,
including
Franko
B
Ron
Athey
of
and performance artists
and
publicly tom and slashed their flesh whilst audiences have looked on, frequently
3
squirming whilst imagining the pain, yet also enjoying the spectacle of it. Other
recent practices entail a more direct relationship with suffering. For the most part,
these involve the pain being self-inflicted,

with the participants coding the

experience, often an exquisite agony, with their own significance. As pastimes, they
instances
heightened
deliberately
offer
of physical and emotional pain
undertaken
declaring
body.
I
the
within a context of
mastery over
am thinking in particular of

body modification (tattooing, piercing, branding etc.), extreme sports, and what is
but
have
I
what
chosen to call Bondage and
usually called sadomasochism,
Discipline, Dominance and Submission,and Sadomasochism(BDSM), all of which
in
in
discussed
my research relation to recent
are

filMS.

These activities offer an

but
crucially, they also provide the vital spectacle of the
encounter with pain,
I-1For some artists, the experiencing of the pain is fundamental to the performance, but Franko B
he
local
as
considers the end effect more important than the pain.
anaesthetic,
actually uses

4 The abbreviation BDSM is in circulation within society and is the preferred terminology
of many.
The importance of its distinctions will be addressedlater in the introduction.

13
-

suffering and endurancethat atteststo the pain.


but
both
also
My concern is therefore for the confrontation of pain,
one's own,
hurt,
feel
is
the
desire
to
the imagining of another's, where the urge is to senseit. The
In
invested
it
is
but to feel it on your terms, for your reasons,and so
with control.
in
has
that
particular, a society
evolved sophisticatedmedical and cultural methodsof
living.
is
interpreted
it
as an affinnation of
avoiding at all costs,the creation of pain
For example, there is evidence of a longstanding fascination for body modification
(bound feet, marked flesh etc.) stretching back 30,000 years of humankind (MasciaLees and Sharpe 1992a, 1). But the marks that were culturally constructed signs of

individualistic
far
tone of expression.
take
adornmentand mutilation, now
on a
more
Although tattooing and body piercing have lately become quite mainstream, a recent
fashion
has
insisted
be
impoverished
into
they
accessories
study
cannot
mere
(Sweetman 1999b). Rather, body modification practices, especially the more extreme
forms, are spoken of by participants as ways of imposing their will over their bodies.
Similar comments regarding pain and control are made about extreme sports, with
the idea of pushing the body to the limit to feel free. But probably the most
intensified example, and one increasingly visible in contemporary culture, is BDSM.

Falsely familiar from numerousmusic videos, advertisementsand fashion shows, as


films,
lived
BDSM,
the
especially the masochist's position,
well as
experience of
inftises my whole thesis. The formative context for this research is therefore the

desirefor subjection,to enduresuffering, and to find an exquisite pleasurein pain.


The themes discussed throughout my study developed from the intuitive starting
films
into
to
tap
the cultural concerns for control
that
were endeavouring
some
point

is,
body
The
body.
Torture
to
the
of
course,
not
suffering
new
cinema.
of
and pain
have been persistent themes throughout, and whilst women have traditionally
have
beatings
in
stoically
endured
and torment for the greater
screamed agony, men
-14-

is
form,
its
in
least
it
be.
is
What
overt
good, whatever may
more peculiarly recent, at
the
impulse,
depiction
linked
and
the
to a masochistic
of pain as pleasure when
foregrounding of marking the body to articulate control. These representationsform
the basis of my investigation.
A cursory examination of films

in
the past ten years confirmed
made

Hollywood's interest,with many of the movies sparking controversybecauseof their


long
division
A
unclear
of pleasure and pain.
more thorough survey revealed a

legacy but with a discernible intersection with themes of masochism and control
films
from
late
The
1980s
in
1990s.
the
the
are
emerging
early
and reaching a peak
disparate;
include
documentaries
they
thrillers,
and
generically
romantic comedies,
dramas.
by
However,
erotic
undertaking my study, I am arguing that we can usefully
films
that are united by their closenessto recent reformulations of
analyse a group of
the representation and importance of painful pleasures.
Films are loci for culturally significant representations: they both help form and
formed
by
are
socially and politically negotiated meanings. Although essentialist

determinations of the texts must be avoided, the filmic appearancesof styles and
developments emerging in the wider culture are worthy of investigation for what

they might tell us about the values placed in them, and which ones are deemed
how
is
For
BDSM
it
Is
significant.
example,
represented?
positive or negative, and

doesgenderhave a role to play? Is body modification a fashion, a statementof intent,


deviance?
does
What
the perforinance of pain tell us about our
or a sign of
body
in
Western
the
to
culture?
relationship
Henry A. Giroux maintains that with the pedagogic power of cinema comes the

broader
the
relationship with social, political and
responsibility of addressing
is
there
no evidence of private and public discoursesbeing
economic concerns,yet
That
(2002.279).
the cinematic representationsof the controlled body
reconciled
15-

in
frequently have little that correspondwith the meaningsconferred by participants
I
Consequently,
the activities that inspired them is therefore of great significance.
interpretations,
between
divergences
the subcultural
pay particular attention to these
films,
by
might
the
what
ask
the
and
and
officially sanctionedmeaningsprojected
deviations.
the
prompt
in
in
With one exception, the films discussedin detail my researchwere made
5
four
In
from
1990
main
the past twenty years, with the vast majority
all
onwards.
denounce
that
announce or
chapters, the painful pursuits are part of personal projects

fit
immediately
have
to
I
body.
But
appear
selected
not all the texts
control over the
into the category of a pleasurable pain. Only three chapters are orientated around
(BDSM,
for
personal control and pleasure
culturally recognizable acts engaging pain
body modification and dangerous games); Chapter 4 focuses on the pain and
domination of the victims of serial killers. Not founded on contemporary cultural
depictions
into
interest
in
films
do
the
the
tap
of suffering,
renewed
artistic
pursuits,
films,
killer
foreground
In
these
the
the
serial
corporeally punished victim.
and so
investigator),
his
(and
the
the
not through merely
control over
victim
announces
killing, but by marking the body and aesthetically posing the crime scene. The very

is
for
There
demonstrates
the
the murder
no pleasure
murderer's control.
excess
from
but
this aestheticizing of
much of our spectatorial pleasure comes
victim,
in
heightened
domination,
Yet,
this
example of
sadistic
even
suffering and control.
there is an additional factor, for I am dealing with boundary states, where the
distinction between pleasureand pain is blurred, and heavily reliant on context. By
the murderer imbuing the crime scenewith an artistic quality, the investigator and
the spectator are compelled to marvel at the killer's control whilst, in a pseudo1;The exception is Tattoo (Bob Brooks, USA, 1981), which only just falls outside the period, and its
as
for
directly
body:
the
the modification of the
a
primary
concern
addresses
controlled
suggests,
name
skin through painful, permanentadornment.

16-

the
to
crime.
both
have
the
the
solve
to
victim
of
masochistic process,
pain
envisage
What is produced is a fusion of suffering and splendour,with the controlled body at
its centre.
is
display,
Although my title places great weight on
the visual element

interdependentwith the narrative in the film; indeed, the story is most frequently
body,
the
the
the
and
orientated around
controlled
production of
spectacle of
therefore the narrative constitutesa significant element of the fascination. More than
isolated visual moments,the aestheticizedpursuits, that combine pleasureand pain,
films.
Through
the
the
this arrangement, the notion of
are
structuring motifs of

control pervadesthe text.


Elaine Scarry, in her book The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the
World, rightly classifies pain via its 'unsharability' (1985,4). It is very difficult to
imagine another person's pain, especially if there is no visible injury or implement of
films
form
invest
The
heavily
in
iconography
that
the
pain.
my area of research
of
pain, and raid traditional and contemporary aesthetic techniques and practices to
body.
Through such referents, the films attempt a
the
the
evoke
pain of
suffering
tangible projection of sensation. However, we are so familiar with the image of a
it
be
difficult
imagine
to
the exquisite pain felt by the
can
whip connoting pain,
be
lash.
And
in
there
the
that
yet,
may
unknown pleasures pain is
masochist under

the allure of the controlled body.


Through my work, I aim to provide a situated critical study of the construction

beliefs
beauty
depicted
in
about
pain,
of
pleasure,
and
control, as
and circulation
last
how
in
I
is
the
twenty
years. ask
pain conceived, and what
mainstreamcinema
How
discourses
it
is
imbued
with.
are cultural
of autonomy through pain
meanings
translated in the cinema? What is lost and what remains? And ponder why these
is
impulse
be
be
the
denied? What
to
masochistic
made:
something
choices may
-

17

induce
images
that
Further,
invoked
invite
the
to
spectator's gaze?
strategies are
disgust, or prompt the urge to look away, are frequently embeddedin discoursesand
David
Like
looking.
formal
scenesof great
elegancethat encourageor necessitate
Blaine, the films seem to 'love making people watch suffering', but repeatedly the
both
it
is
is
interpretation
that
to
and contradictory: residesas
statusof
suffering open
body
tell
interventions
What
the
the
on
might
pleasurablepain and painful pleasure.
in
be
fears
how
is
What
contained
might
us about
control conceivedand visualized?
foundational
to
And
to
charactersgrappling understand,experienceand control pain?
theseinquiries, what might have influenced this cinematic confrontation of pain, and
how is it codedas control?
Because of my interest in how the controlled body relates to its cultural context,

boundaries
is
interdisciplinary
It
the
thesis
of
project. addresses
my
very much an
film studies, cultural studies, and in a limited way, anthropology, in relation to the
body as a site of pleasure and pain. Through applying perspectives gleaned from

these various academic fields, I have attempted to construct a framework of


intersecting attitudes towards the controlled body, including representationsand
fusion
disciplines
has
been
fruitful,
The
of
experiences of suffering.

for it has

in
to
allowed me contemplateactual pleasuresand attractionsof control other spaces,
how
judgement
to
they might correspond to the cinematic
as
and offer a
formulation,
I
Within
films
textual
the
offer
analysis
of
significant
representations.

last
during
twenty years, whilst situating them amidst their own
the
produced
body
(BDSM,
history
themes
their
modification, serial killers
of
respective
cinematic
directly
films
Some
the
correspond
with cultural practices that are
of
and games).
founded on painful activities that enounce control (for example, BDSM in
Secretaty). others are more tangential (for instance.the relationship of video games
USA,
but
Fincher,
1997)),
(David
Game
The
to
evidence, both textual and extra18-

textual, guides my comparisons.

By engaging with the expandeddiscoursesof pain, it has invited an exploration


of the adequacy of the dominant paradigms, most notably the application of
psychoanalytic

explanations

for

culturally

lived

and

chosen

experiences.

Psychoanalysisis often wielded as a blunt instrument when explanationsare sought


for BDSM, so conclusions reached are frequently far removed from the practical
Through
BDSM
the
and
political
a
social,
applications
of
activity.
studying
as
'r'

degree
hope
have
I
to
the
of subtlety and
greater
perfonnative act,
afforded
importance
demands.
The
that
the
of this
awareness of content and context
activity

in
detail
is
forming
basis
for
thesis,
this
to
that
the
a
chapter
attention
as well as
BDSM provides a set of concepts, values and practices that percolate through the
broadened
debate,
Thus,
the
embracing the socially appropriated
whole work.
in
BDSM
actions, commentaries of why people engage painful pursuits
meanings of
depiction
has
body
the
of suffering,
such as
modification and extreme sports, and

basis
for
the
understandingthe cinematic representationof the controlled
provided
body.
It is pertinent now to indicate why I have chosen the abbreviation BDSM for
Firstly,
termed
sadomasochism.
what is usually

it

is less pejorative

than

it
baggage
brings
the
of countless titillating tabloid
with
sadomasochism,which
Madame
Cynthia
Payne's
The
'House
Cyn'
trial
of
celebrated
of
newspaper articles.

in the United Kingdom in 1987 producedmany such stories,with its combination of


BDSMI rumours of Lords and lawyers queuing up for services, and Payments by

luncheon vouchers.Moral indignation fused with comedy to form the fagadebehind


inside
information
interest
lay
BDSM.
the
the
the
The
of
story:
real
on
which
discussions of musician Michael Hutchence's death in terms of autoerotic

19-

6
by
and
is
features.
BDSM
displayed
mystery
thus
these
contained
asphyxiation also
bound
techniques
and
The
BDSM
secret
ridicule.
up with
referencing of
as a practice
framework
of condemnation, exists
promising extraordinary pleasures,all within a
throughout Western culture, including, as we shall see, Hollywood cinema.

The second reason for using BDSM is to suggest a plurality of activities, which

is something denied by the singular term sadomasochism.Thus, we have bondage


discipline,
and

dominance and submission, and

sadomasochism, where

be
Through
to
placing my
sadomasochism can
mean pain play.
usefully understood

from
deeds,
hope
distance
I
the overarching
these
to
emphasisequally on
my study
use of the term sadomasochism,which misconceivesthe socially undertakenactivity
in
BDSM
defined
by
it
is
In
of
as
anchored control.
pain alone. practice,
In Pain and Passion: A Psychoanalyst Explores the World of S&M,

Robert

Stoller attempts to expand our understanding of BDSM (or sadomasochism as he


interviews
it)
beyond
the
theory
scope of psychoanalytic
via a combination of
calls
8 Thus, he declares, 'I
must conclude that there is
and non-particiPating observations.
no sadomasochistic perversion; rather, there are many sadomasochistic perversions'
(1991,8).

Over the space of five pages, he proceeds to list numerous BDSM

techniques, including various types of whipping, piercing, cutting, hanging (e.g.


by
limbs
suspension

flesh),
stretching on racks, gagging,
and via pierced

imprisonment (e.g. cages and masks), altered consciousness(e.g. prolonged suffering


6 Autoerotic asphyxiation is the interference with the blood supply to the brain to heighten orgasm.
The titillation arose from the minutiae: naked body, hanging from a door by his belt, alcohol, Prozac
for
in
his
blood,
the uninitiated, especially, (how) does it
all of which prompted questions
and cocaine
his
life,
distanced
Hutchence
living
defined
But
the
through
and
actions
were
rock
star's
and
work?
as
'other'.
7 Fascination but resistanceto BDSM is not new though, with J. W. Archenholtz reporting on a
London man (a musician again) dying from autoerotic asphyxiation in 1791, and a pamphlet of the
describing
in
detail
his
Propensities,
Modern
sexual practice. In contrast, the judge trying
time, called
for
documents
be
destroyed (in Bloch 1996,45 1to
ordered
all
court
the assisting prostitute
murder
454).
8 BDSM is frequently given terms that are seenas less pejorative than sadomasochism,such as S&M,
S/M and SM. Throughout the thesis I will retain each author's choice of appellation for BDSM, but
be
be
interpretations
the
to
part
of
seen
multitude
their comments should
of
of BDSM.

-20-

by
is
list
bondage;
the
no means exhaustive.
and suffocation), mummification and
BDSM hopefully points towards the diversity of actions, and how no one act defines
it. However, Stoller does deducetwo common features from the assortedactivities:
they involve 'suffering, not necessarily pain in the usual sense' (1991,14) and they
for
dramatized
'the
the participant playing
stress
gross,
expression of powerlessness

the bottom role and of power for the designated top' (1991,14). From such a
body,
for
investigators
the
the
of
as
conceptualizationemanatesmy phrase
controlled
BDSM subculture have found, 'At the very core of sadomasochismis not pain but
the idea of control - dominanceand submission' (Weinberg and Karnel 1983a,20).
As should be clear from my earlier comments,the controlled body is not limited
to BDSM, and it can involve subjection against the victim's will. Under these
its
involving
but
BDSM
aesthetic and symbolic
may exist,
circumstances, a reading

be
behind
insists
it
is
No
that
real-life
sadism.
clouded
a narrative
properties will
9
BDSM 'scene' involves torture. Although I will discuss the essential qualities of
BDSM as a social practice in Chapter 2, it is imperative I point out that a
ftindamental tenet of BDSM is consent. Weinberg and Kamel highlight that IS&M
it
is
than
the
not
scenarios are willingly and cooperatively produced; more often

20).
importance
fantasies
(1983a,
1
the
that
recognize
are acted out'
masochist's
of
the consent in BDSM procedures, but, as we shall see, the fantasy space of the

is
In
BDSM
not present.
addition, the
readings when consent
cinema allows
for
be
body
things:
a canvas adornment,a place of manipulation,
can other
controlled
body
for
in
its
for
that
mutilation, and a
revels
physicality.
a space punishment,a site
In all casesthough, the body is establishedas a location for defining and denying
identity, but also a spacethat is encodedwith cultural significance.

9 Stressing its performative qualities, the term 'scene' is used for the engagementin actual BDSM
acts.

-21 -

Each of the four main chaptersof the thesis is structured in a similar manner.
Following Chapter 1, which provides an accountof the existing critical literature that
four
touches on the topic of the controlled body, the chaptersconcentrateon one of
strands of representation of painful pleasures: BDSM, body modification, the serial

killer's murder scene and its investigation, and dangerousgames. The first part of
each chapter situatesthe themes and conceptswithin their respectivecontemporary
practices and the cinematic history of such representations. The second part of each
instances
Examining
chapter contains a number of case studies.
of the
cinematic
I
from
topics,
the
relevant
apply
socially constructed and negotiated meanings
earlier
in

the chapter alongside textual

analysis to

provoke

interdisciplinary
an

understandingof the spectacleof the controlled body.


The controlled body is not a genderedbody, and I deal with both the suffering
female
body
in
male and
my thesis. But the gender of the subject can have important
interpretive elements, especially in respect of masochism. The tortured male hero,
seen throughout cinema history, has remained problematic for the conception of the
binary assumption of active male/passive female, especially in respect of gendering
the spectator's gaze (see Willemen 1981; Neale 1983; Hutchings 1993b; P. Smith

1993). Many of the controlled body films have explored the latent male masochism,
it
in
foreground
its
in
formation
the
to
the
suggest
and positioned
necessity
of

body
is
Thus,
the
although
controlled
masculinity.
not exclusively the male body, the
figure of a man choosing passivity and pain brings an additional charge, and is a
investigation
has
that
throughout
the
runs
research, and
special prominence
strand of

in Chapters2 and 5.
A study of BDSM provides the basis of Chapter 2.1

how
BDSM
signal

interpretationscan and have beendrawn from a range of films throughout the history
its
have
become
but
increasingly
themes
that
note
prominent. I proceedby
of cinema,
-22-

founded
control,
formulation
BDSM
consensual
on
constructing a
as an activity
of
but
in
which revels performed pain and subjection,
argue

has
that mainstreamcinema

Employing
its
imposed
interpretation
case
different
nearly always
pleasures.
on
a

Bob
Death
Life
The
8mm
Sick:
(Joel
Schumacher,
USA,
1999)
of
and
studies of
and
Flanagan, Supermasochist (Kirby Dick, USA, 1997), 1 focus on the construction of

BDSM as a form of deviancy, and Hollywood's persistentdenial of male masochism,


whilst exploiting its representation.

Chapter 3 offers a reading of body modification as an example of controlling the


body. Continuing themes of painful mastery and masochistic pleasures from Chapter
21 1 charge mainstream cinema with largely rejecting the social significance of
In
framework.
flesh,
imposing
instead
the
and
a coercive
marking and modifying
deformity,
beauty
body
the
the
a
and
addition,
adornment of
prompts questions of

films:
body
that
the
the
case study
pervades
extreme
modifications of
conundrum
Tattoo, Boxing Helena and Crash (David Cronenberg, Canada, 1996).
I begin Chapter 4 by contemplating how murder, and in particular, serial killing,

has been associatedwith art, and how art has traditionally drawn on the suffering
body for inspiration. These reflections are followed by an examination of films such
The
Bone
Collector
(Phillip
Noyce,
USA,
1995),
USA,
Fincher,
Se7en
(David
as
1999) and Resurrection (Russell Mulcahy, USA, 1999). Featuring the serial killer as

designs
flamboyantly
I
death,
the
that
murder
scene,
scrutinise
someone
an artist of
how the investigator reveals meanings from the aesthetics of suffering. Finally, I
detective
for
the
examining the murder
postulate a specifically masochistic role

killer
in
the
that
the
artistic serial
obliges the spectator
subgenreof
scene,a process
body
the
to contemplate
of victimhood via a tangible association. In all
controlled
both
the
the
act of suffering are
aestheticizedspectacle
suffering act and
chapters,
but
in
the
the
the
of
narrative,
part
subgenre of the artistic serial
structuring
and
-23-

killer, the configuration reachesits zenith.


Guided by studies of video gamesand extreme sports, and drawing on the work
5
in
Chapter
detail
Johan
in
Huizinga (1970) and Roger Caillois (1961), 1 dwell
on
of
two films by David Fincher: The Game and Fight Club. The study prompts a return
to some of the issuesregarding the display of male masochismdiscussedin Chapter
2, but rather than explicit BDSM, I focus on the realm of play, including sport and
Like
BDSM,
games.

different
force
has
that
play
specific rules
guide and

interpretations of actions. As specifically controlled arenas, they offer spaces to


danger
personal
control, and enjoy masochistic pleasures of
and pain.
abandon
11

In conjunction with each other, the four chapters reveal the cinematic depictions

body
be
fertile
the
to
of
controlled
a
site to explore contemporaryattitudes towards
the body and selfbood. Tracking the culturally prevalent masochistic desire for

discomfort,
both
ordeals and
within the narratives and the spectacles,I ask what the
films might tell us about a search for autonomy, but also a need to experience
feel
to
sensations
alive. By uncovering mainstream contemporary cinema's
fascination for suffering, I ponder the pleasures of pain.

-24-

1.

Situating the Controlled Body


This is my body, and I may as well say, well, I'm not gonna get another one, so I, m gonna
use this one until it's all used up.
Bob Flanaganin Sick: TheLife and Death ofBob Flanagan, Supermasochist

With the body as one of the key areasof debate in the late twentieth century, there
has been an abundanceof scholarly texts exploring the topic. Issues of the body,
to
body
foundational
image
its
have
been
only
not
especially
and
representation,
My
but
broader
historical,
genderstudies,
cultural, social,
and anthropological work.
last
in
films
into
body
the
the
the
of
research
cinematic spectacle of
controlled
twenty years is grounded in these debates. Indeed, many of the films I discuss appear
to address these very discourses whilst perpetuating them in the cinematic domain.
Yet, through being such an amorphous topic, I have found no focus in the predisciplines
debates
that touch upon my thesis.
existing work, rather a range of
and
Indeed, part of the process of reviewing the literature was a defining of my area of
investigation, at least in respect of how the controlled body draws on existing
discourses. For this reason, after firstly considering deliberations in film studies

in
fields
body,
had,
this
the
the
that
examines
allied
remainder
of
chapter
work
about
debates
body.
have
These
I
facie,
the
controlled
grouped
an affiliation with
prima
together under four headings: imagining BDSM, body image culture, art and the
performance of suffering, and playing games.
I have sought out texts that pennit socio-cultural rather than psycho-symbolic
it
Initially
that
the
coexisting concepts of power and control
appeared
meanings.

Foucauldian
In
Discipline
lent
Punish:
towards
themselves
a
analysis.
and
naturally
The Birth qf the Prison (1991), Foucault enunciates discourses on the topic of the

human body and its control. In particular, he deliberateson the replacementof the
by
both
discreet
the
the
punishmentof the penal system (1991,
scaffold
spectacleof
-25-

104-131) and surveillance (1991,195-228), whilst offering the concept of the docile
body to aid our understandingof the meansof control (1991,135-169). Crime is thus
ascribedusefulness:it prompts andjustifies a monitoring of all. Within the cinematic
depictions of the controlled body, examples of such strategies are evident: BDSM is

defined
dangerous
be
to
usually
vigilant over such
as
and so we are encouraged
activities, whilst the investigator in the artistic serial killer films is defined as an
indispensableobserver.Foucault has also arguedin both Discipline and Punish: The
Birth of the Prison and The History of Sexuality (1990) that power is not held, it is a
Structurally,
is
this
network of relationships.
what
provides a model that can account
for oscillations in the positions of power in cinematic images of control, and

fluctuations in spectatorial identification between the 'victim' and the 'victimizer'.


Moreover, Foucault's work, through being explicitly

images
of
concerned with

directly
to the remit of my thesis. However, my work is far from
punishment, relates
direct
Foucauldian approach, which would have necessitatedmy study remaining at
a
the theoretical level. Instead, I have incorporated sociological

and cultural

directly
that
engage with practitioners of painful pursuits, and these
perspectives
form the framework for my hypothesis of the pleasures of the controlled body.
Also at the level of theory, I have found Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The

Making and Unmaking of the World (1985) a suitable point of departure from
difficulties
Scarry
the
conceptual
accurately articulates
psychoanalysis.
associated
in
introduction,
Scarry
As
'unsharability'
the
my
records
mentioned
with pain.
of
have
is
have
but
'To
(1985,4),
that,
to
pain
she also notes
certainty; to hear
pain

have
doubt'
Depictions
is
(1985,13).
body
the
to
of
controlled
about pain
exploit this
is
depicted
is
it
the
that
sensationa character
experiencingmay be a
conceivable
gap:
it
be,
because
to
the
pain appears
we are not confronted by any
pleasure, and not
films
But
bridge
the
to
the gap to prompt reciprocal
also
attempt
physical experience.

-26-

killer
in
4
in
Chapter
for
serial
I
of
As
respect
sensations the spectator.
address
will
films, the spectator is encouragedto have a sensorial relationship, beyond seeing,
thesis,
has
even
film.
In
Scarry's
the
to
the
whole
with
relevance
work
addition,
though her project is different to mine, analysing as she does, the all-consuming
ScarrY
Thus,
it
how
destroys
the self and our natural creativeness.
nature of pain, and
deal
does
Scarry
its
(1985,52).
Indeed,
by
'sheer
not
characterizespain
aversiveness'
BDSM,
the
with
pleasures of
or any other such sensations, and perhaps quite rightly
for
description
In
Scarry's
they
truly
establishes a
so,
are not
pain.
effect,

be
define
that
to
these painful pleasuresagainst.
classification
can profitably
used
Rather than being averseto it, the subjection and enduranceof the controlled body is
desired.
exquisite
enjoyed
and
an
pain: something
even

The Body and Film Studies


Cinema has not been overlooked during the growth in critical debatessurrounding
the body, but the work has tendedto be linked either to specific genresor the broad
'
issue of identity, rather than cross-genre themes. Yvonne Tasker's Spectacular

Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema (1993) is a casein point. Addressing
the then neglected genre of the action film, she explores the pleasures of the
inquiry
into
body,
issues
the
male physique, and prompts an
especially
commodified
body.
defining
Containing
traces of my survey,
the
active
of gendering and racially

based
for
in
the
the
around
representationof
audience
pleasures
of
respect
notably
the spectacularbody, Tasker is not explicitly concernedwith the controlled body.

' For example, in the caseof genre seethe work on horror discussedlater, but also the body in science
fiction, especially the cyborg, in J.P. Telotte's Replications: A Robotic History of the ScienceFiction
Film ( 1995) and Claudia Springer's Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age
(1996). The published work on the body and identity in cinema is vast, but a senseof its broad sweep
is indicated by the collection of essaysedited by Christine Gledhill entitled Stardom: Industry of
Desire (199 1). Chris Straayer's Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies: Sexual Re-Orientations in Film and
f7deo (1996) and Stella Bruzzi's Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies (1997).

-27-

Indeed, the notion of the body being acted upon, either by the self. or by another
largely
been
has
blurred,
overlooked
person,where conceptsof pleasureand pain are
in film studies.
Several texts that deal with the body and cinema do, however, introduce
concepts and approaches that allow me to situate my work. It is noteworthy that these

have also tended to be concentratedon singular topics, making it appropriateto split


them into three categories: the male body, the horrific body and the serial killer
However,
Aaron's
is
Michele
to
genre.
one significant exception
such specificity
edited collection of essays The Body's Perilous Pleasures: Dangerous Desires and
Contemporary Culture (1999), which brings together diverse cultural images and
activities that are deemed dangerous, whether socially, legally or politically. Not all
2

of the articles contend directly with the issue of the body and cinema, but the
efficacy of the book is its very eclecticism, for it acts as a for-um to develop a notion
of danger to the body that moves away from the limitations of genre and/or activity,

is
between
and which structured around a relationship
representationand reception.
As Aaron describes them:
blatant
Perilous pleasures
images
horror,
to
the
refer
activities
or
of
...
but
the
they also pertain to the
suspense and eroticism on
screen or page,
desires
by
these
consumer of
representations, whose
are met or activated
them, whose desires determine their production and popularity. (1998,2)

Thus, the concept of the body's perilous pleasures acts as a vehicle to recognize

diverse
between
images.
These
activities and
culturally accepted relationships
body,
it
is
the
proliferate
around
controlled
connections
and
overarching
a similarly
diverse understandingof a topic that I have attemptedto achievein this research.

2 in addition to articles on David Cronenberg(L. R. Williams 1999), pornographic movies


(Krzywinska 1999), and the imageD,of AIDS (Pearl 1999), there are essayson cyborg fiction (Mason
1999), representationsof children (Petley 1999) and (as discussedlater) tattooing (Sweetman 1999a).

-28-

The Male Bqdy

My rationale for isolating the male body as an areaof researchtouching on my study


is that while at times the genderingof the controlled body appearssubsidiary to other
factors, the controlled male body poses significant issues in respect of traditional
influence
direct
Under
of
the
conceptions of masculinity and empowerment.
feminist, gay and lesbian, and race studies,the representation(s)of masculinity have
undergonescrutiny, both theoretically, as I will discussbelow, but also via changes
in portrayals. The latter explicitly coincides with the depictions of the controlled
body, which frequently seem to be reacting with male stereotypes.
In film studies, consideration of the male body has repeatedly operated through a
Laura
Mulvey's assertion in 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'
reappraisal of
(1975) that the female is exclusively the object of the male gaze. Steve Neale in
Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema' (1983)

is
identification
between the male spectator and the
that
there
argues
narcissistic
body
because
in
heterosexual
the
that
male
on
screen, and
of conventions a
and
body
the
patriarchal society,
male
cannot be explicitly erotic for the male gaze, so it
is repressed. The scenes therefore take on ritualized and fetishistic elements to
legitimate the interest in the hero and his body. Applying Neale's work to images of
I
body
is
to
that
the
able
offer
a
reading
suggests
controlled
male suffering, am
such

disavowal.
I
However,
will also assert that under certain conditions
a vehicle of
(excessive spectacle, inter-textual framework, spectatorial appropriation), the avowal

disavowal.
Furthermore,
the
there are rare
of eroticized male suffering overwhelms
instances in some recent films where a masochistic pleasure in pain is readily

acknowledged.
Kenneth MacKinnon in Uneasy Pleasures: The Male as Erotic Object examines

it
is
but
has
become
that
and
concludes
not
new,
male objectification
more apparent
-29-

through the existenceof a desiring female gaze, and a commodification of the male
body that avoids any threat to patriarchy by linking the look to 'an equal(1997,191).
the
opportunities policy as regards the commodification of
sexes'
However, as part of his study (seealso MacKinnon 1999), MacKinnon demonstrates
the disavowal discussedby Neale. Thus, MacKinnon describesseminarswhere his
denied
but
idea
texts,
to
the
studentswere receptive
either
of multiple readings of
that the male body was eroticized, or believed the eroticism was only felt by others.
MacKinnon therefore disclosesthe persistenceof the disavowal, and conversely,the
4necessity' to disguise the eroticism within the narrative.
Richard Dyer in 'Don't Look Now' (1982) also examines the objectification of
the male body, but in a related topic. Contrasting the male and female pin-up, he

argues that the male body is objectified, but overcomes the female-associated
its
by
heightened
passivity Of
static representation
straining,
musculature, and
justified
is
important
in
The
'masculine'
to
pursuits.
notion of
passivity
engagement
the controlled and restrained body, whilst Dyer's assertion that 'The penis can never
live up to the mystique implied by the phallus' (1982,71),
fragility
the
terms,
uncovers
psychoanalytical

in
although couched

being
founded on
of masculinity

dominance. Bob Flanagan makes the same point, but more graphically, when he
hammers a nail through his penis in Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan,
Supermasochist.

Paul Smith continues the discussion of the male body in 'Eastwood Bound'
(1993). Using Paul Willemen's 'Looking at the Male' (1981) and opposing Neale's

is
body
'feminized'
to
by
the
that
necessarily
enable
male
objectification
argument
a
dominant male gaze, Smith still insists that hornoeroticism is denied. What Smith
brings to the argument is film scholarship debates surrounding masochism. Not
is
Kaja
Silverman
discusses
the
that
that
in
subversive
element
masochism
accepting
-30-

Male Subjectivity at the Margins (1992),3 Smith maintains that the masochism is
triumphal
by
the
negated within the conventional narrative
protagonist's eventual
empowen-nent. Thus, masochism is a steppingstone to the confin-nation of patriarchal

law.
More recently, Jeffrey A. Brown (2002) has applied a combination of the work

Willemen,
Neale and Smith to discussa pattern of torture and suffering endured
of
by numerous characters played by Mel Gibson. Brown interprets the spectacular

both
by
indicating
Gibson
torment
the
endurance of
experienced
as
necessity of
in
sadismand masochism depicting a unified masculinity, whilst Gibson's resistance
to pain confirms his authentic manliness and asserts his status as a heterosexual sex

by
being
defined
by
In
than
symbol.
other words, rather
men
sadism, and women
image
important
The
traits.
masochism, suffering and powerlessness are
masculine

belief
body,
is
the
the
of
controlled male
where subjection specifically chosen,gives
in the necessityof male masochismeven more credence.
By exploring the debates that have arisen in connection with the male body, it is

how
disavowed
distinguish
the
two
to
central
notions of
eroticism and the
possible
in
Although
(controlling)
to
the
masculinity
mainstream cinema.
male are
active

instabilities
in
the
these positions and meansto read around
texts
recognize
critical
(or against them), they stress their enduring appearance in narratives. Both situations
debate
has
but
focused
the
to
until
now
primarily
whereas
up
my study,
are crucial

debate
into
hornoeroticism,
latent
the
thesis
the equally
the
will extend
my
on
threatening notions of BDSM's gender instability, and explicit male masochism.

The Horrific Body


The 1970s saw what Robin Wood calls 'the Golden Age of the American horror

I will say more about Kaja Silverman's work in respect of masochism later in this chapter.

-31 -

film' (1986,70). The successof these films and the growth in studies of popular
culture in the 1980s prompted a recognition of this most visceral and corporeal of
horror
to
broad
Consequently,
Wood
genres.
relationship of
charting the
alongside
repression, the family and American culture, there emerged a substantial amount of
Twitchell
1984;
film
1981;
Grant
horror
(see
Neale
American
work on the modem
1985; Waller 1987). But it is only those studies that discuss the range of films
collectively

known as body horror, and the allied group of films

featuring

disfigurement, that have a direct bearing on the controlled body.


Philip Brophy in 'Horrality
(1986) situates the visibility

Films'
Horror
The
Textuality
Contemporary
of
-

in
horror
in
improvement
to
the
special
of
relation

Bad
in
Bodies
Pete
Boss
'Vile
the
text.
the
and
effects and
self-referential quality of
Medicine' (1986) is similarly concerned with visibility, in particular of the body, and
is
it
The
Boss's
to
technology,
pairing
relates
modem
especially medicine.
product of
fear
being
by
body
the
the
teehnophobie
of
acted on
external agencies.
an analysis of
Both essays therefore accurately locate the visual and narrative style of body horror
body
being
body
Thus,
than
the
the
out of control rather
controlled.
as stressing
itself
discourse
body,
that sees the
the
which aligns
with a social
unlike
controlled
is
being,
for
lack
their
the
concern
of
corporeal as an essence and statement of
body
horror's
fear
Furthermore,
the
emphasis on the
corporeal.
of
autonomy and a
body's transformation (for example, the creature emerging from John Hurt's stomach
in Alien (Ridley Scott, UK, 1979)), stressesthe act, whilst, as we shall see, especially

in relation to the artistic serial killer, the controlled body more usually accentsthe
body
horror's
human
However,
the
the
of
physicality
very
recognition
of
aftermath.

frame makes it a forerunner of the controlled body.


It is also relevant to note that the emphasison the horror of the body took on a
feminist
in
1990s.
Whereas
had
the
largely
early
slant
studies
gender
specific
-32-

female
the
concentratedon ascertainingthe relationship between the punishment of
body and the female spectator (see Williams 1984), Carol Clover in Men, Women
it
Chainsaws:
Film
(1992)
Horror
Modern
Gender
in
the
and
relates to the male
killers
Employing
and
the
theory
spectator.
slasher
whilst gendering
psychoanalytic
the 'Final Girl', Clover argues the male gaze must contain an element of masochism

through identification with the potential victim. Barbara Creed's study The
Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (1993) similarly questions
films.
in
horror
whether women are exclusively positioned as passive victims
Engaging with Julia Kristeva's conceptualization of the abject, Creed argues that the

desire
female
fears
'speaks
to
than
or
about
monstrous-feminine
us more about male
feminine subj ectivity'

(1993,7).

In 'Masculinity

Film',
Horror
the
and

Peter

Hutchings (I 993b) also identifies the female monster, and deducesthat the male
disempowerment
the
through
on the screen, experiences
spectator,
empathizing with
identification,
All
three
pieces raise concerns regarding stable
masochistic pleasures.
for
Similar
importance
the
the
spectator.
of masochistic pleasure
and recognize
issues also arise in respect of the controlled body, where spectatorial pleasure
frequently lies in images of suffering, but with the potential for even greater
finding
is
identification
the
pleasure
protagonist seen as somehow
when
masochistic
in that pain. Part of my project is therefore to examine what fears and pleasures the

body
might speakof
controlled
Debates surrounding spectatorial pleasure were continued by Isabel Pinedo in
Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing (1997).

Pinedo articulates the pleasureof submitting to tension and fear, and the importance
from
knowledge.
Moving
inter
theory
away
solely
a
masochistic
extra-textual
and
of

female
Pinedo's
is
the
on
spectator,
work productive
of pleasure,and concentrating
for
for
the audiencewhen the film
the
types
becauseit searches
of pleasureson offer
-33 -

depicts the body in pain.


Other studies have concentratedon the visualization of this pain. Both Linda
Ruth Williams in 'An Eye for an Eye' (1994) and Ray Guins in 'Tortured Looks:
Dario Argento and Visual Displeasure' (1996) choose the traditional metaphor of

damageto the eye in the narrative as a meansto accessthe assaulton the spectator
(see also Clover 1992,166-230). The serial killer films that feature in my inquiry

take the aestheticizingof pain in a different direction though. Rather than damageto
the eye, the crime scene both assaults the eye via shock, and is horrifically pleasing
in its formal beauty. Furthennore, the requirement of investigation necessitates our
gaze.

Of course, the horrific body is not limited to horror films. Whatever disrupts or
human
form,,
in
it
discloses
is
the
alters
particular where
our corporealness, usually
depicted as malignant. Only directly relevant to my chapter on body modification,

deliberate
I
human
body
the
the
where examine
refigurement of
as an act of control,
the depiction of disability has an impact on my work via its correlation to pain.
Falling into two categories, content analysis (Cumberbatch and Negrine 1992) and a
history
(Norden
1994; Hunter 1995; Pointon with Davies
cinematic
Of representation
1997), the studies define a tradition of representing disability in tenns of rejection
demonstrate
in
I
loathing,
my thesis, contrasts
or pity and shame, which, as will
and

images
is
desirable
Crash.
What
the
of
made evident is
eroticized and
sharply with
how significant the act of control is in defining what is aesthetically acceptable and
being
is
body:
by
human
in
deemed
the
chosen,
consciously
what
usually
pleasing

disfigurement takes on the quality of beauty, whilst, as witnessed in Tattoo, forced


body adonunent becomesa mutilation.

-34-

The Serial Killer Genre


The serial killer has become a familiar cinematic figure since the 1970sas part of a
Z
A
The
to
Books
has
imbued
that
the
process
such as
murderer with cult status.
Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (Schechterand Everitt 1996), The Encyclopedia of
Serial Killers (Newton 2000) and Bad Blood: An Illustrated Guide to Psycho Cinema
(Fuchs 2002) are part of an ever-growing collection of texts that provide reference

details of actual killers alongside accountsof their fictional counterparts.Academic


Seltzer
have
link
Mark
(see
Levin
Fox
1985,3-7),
the
works
also made
with
and
fascination
interest
America's
'wound
the
the
characterizing
as part of
public
culture:

bodies
tom
with
and open
and tom and openedpersons,a collective gatheringaround
literal
(1998,1).
Seltzer
trauma,
the
the
shock,
and
wound'
classes
wound as a
in
interiors:
he
Foucauldian
the
a process sees, a
example of
making public of private
in
from
the
the
reclassification of crime and sexual acts
manner, as emerging
killer
is
Seltzer
'The
The
calls
serial
an example of what
nineteenth century.
bodies'
1),
(1998,2
which alongside talk
spectacular public representation of violated

films,
art exhibitions, and even this thesis, situate the violently transgressed
shows,
body as a means of understanding private, public, and social identity.
The expansive work on serial killers also includes those by ex-FBI profilers
(Ressler and Shachtman 1992; Douglas and Munn 1992), and academics seeking to
lineage
depictions
in
a
of
within
art,
situate current representations of murderers

literature and film (see J. Black 1991; Tatar 1995; Simpson 2000), of which I will
I
For
in
later
to
those
this
concentrate
on
wish
now,
originating
chapter.
on
say more

film
discipline
the
studies.
of
within
In 'The Criminal Psychopath as Hollywood Hero' (198 1), Wayne J. Douglass
1930s
from
the
to
the
the
the
of
cinematic
gangster
psychopathic
progression
charts

is
Douglass
between
What
1970s.
the
hero of the
the two
notes
allegiance
-35-

the
from
of
desire
the
in
heroic
to emerge
anonymity
characterizations the
guise of a
been
had
crowd. By 1991, Amy Taubin was noting that the cinematic psychopath
Films
his
in
heroic
less
but
into
killer,
waY.
the mantle of serial
subsumed
was no
The
1990)
USA,
McNaughton,
Henry:
Portrait of a Serial Killer (John
and
such as
Silence of the Lambs (JonathanDemme, USA, 1991) built on the narrative heritage
1960)
M
(Fritz
(Alfred
Hitchcock,
USA,
Lang,
Gennany,
193
1)
Psycho
whilst
of
and
developing the appeal of the psycho killers of countless slasher films. Essentially
for
films,
highlights
Taubin
through
the
my
what
exploring male violence
also
both
killer,
is
the
the
serial
research a more significant concern, namely
emphasis on
Silence
The
the
to
the
the
case of
within
narrative and extra-textually,
point where, in

in
Lecter
is
by
Clarice
Hannibal
Lambs,
the
the
the
central protagonist
eclipsed
of
4

has
become
killer
fact
debates.
Taubin
this
the
that
the
a
serial
aligns
with
public
in
featuring
fascination
true-crime television and
the
throughout
media,
subject of
is
killer
1991).
Furthermore,
Psycho
(B.
E.
Ellis
American
the
serial
novels such as
freely,
heartlands,
American
the
who roams
virtually
now regarded as a product of

undetectable,through the sprawling suburbs.


Being undetectable is not the same as being anonymous though. Richard Dyer in
'Kill

for
in
killings.
discusses
(1997)
Kill
Again'
the
patterns
serial
search
and

Crucial for the investigative narrative (and storytelling

generally), the serial

has
become
it
is
based
being
Dyer
and
anticipation,
on
repetition
as
asserts,
structure,
(1997,14).
In
fiction,
capitalism
'a reigning principle of cultural production' under

is
(who
killed,
basic
beyond
how
be
the
taken
pattern of repetition
the seriality can
is
discen-tible
heightened
),
the
killed,
to
pattern
only
where
sequence
they are
a
etc.
For
Dyer,
have
killings
the
taken
(or
the
place.
centrality of
all)
nearly
after all
4 The importance of The Silence of the Lambs in shaping the depictions and studies of serial killers is
it.
Of
by
Staiger
(1993),
those
Halberstam
in
texts
particular
note
are
addressing
the
of
number
evident
(1995) and Tasker (2002).

-36-

the
in
it
that
is
negates
these narratives a reassurance: provides a motive
seriality
it
What
for
killing's
killing
also provides
unacceptablyterrifying prospect of
sake.
for
d'etre
is
is
for
departure
though, and this
the point of
a raison
my thesis,
spectacular murders that highlight

the killer's

control over the victim,

the

investigators and the audience. What is more, through the murders being
aestheticized, the crime scene has displaced the serial killer as the object of
fascination, so what was once profane is now linked to the profound. This
did
its
in
Se7en,
to
the
embellishment
and
point of revelation perhapsreached zenith
have
films
by
(Taubin
but
1996;
Dyer
1999),
not go unnoticed
critics
subsequent
5
beendismissed. By so doing, the subgenre,and its position within the broaderallure
dominated
body,
has
been
lost.
is
One
the
therefore to
the
thesis
of
of
aims of my
redressthis situation.
A relatively small number of works do critically discuss the artistry of the serial
killer,, although without explicitly engaging with the notion of the controlled body.
Patrice Fleck examines the marks on the murder victim's body as a form of language
that offers clues, and regards the serial killer film as providing a 'conservative

foregoes
in
direction
deliberately
looking
the
that
of economicsand
analysisof crime
focus
family
(1995/96,35).
lieu
displaced
in
the
and morality'
on
of some
poverty
Alison

Young

(1996), whilst

offering

illuminating
an

study of

literature,

find
institutions
failure
issues
justice
to
to
the
solutions
of
and
of
criminology,
In
that
the
requires
reading.
as
a
space
crime scene
a more
criminality, similarly sees

direct examination of the aestheticization of the crime scene, Todd F. Tietchen


depiction
(1998),
is
intertextual
the
'killer
the
and
argues
artist'
as
part of a
positions
killer
blurring
that
the
and
copycats,
samples
whilst
serial
mediation on
5 An editorial in Sight and Sound in January 2000 describesthe subgenreas being comprised of films
Fincher's
(without
influence
the
talent)
'betray
the
of
serial-killer movie Se-en' (Sight and Sound
that
2000,3).

-37-

(2001)
Schneider
Jay
Steven
representationsof the real. More aligned with my study.
elucidatesthat a range of films have portrayed the serial killer as artist. and proposes
a schema that distinguishes murder as artistic product from murder as artistic
perfon-nance.

Although I will contest some of their findings, thesewriters have made the link
between the pain of victimhood and the pleasure of artistry. Along with the
debates
body,
the
the
the
aforementioned
and
regarding
representation of
male
horrific body, they are the closest film studies has come to examining cinematic
interpretations of contemporary painful pursuits undertaken as proof of autonomy
bring
What
I
films
is
framework
to
the
that
these
and vitality.
as part
argument a
sees

discourses
that place the marked and controlled body at the centre
of a wider range of
in
Considerations
body
image,
BDSM,
of a pleasure
pain.
of
art and performance,
issues
link
into
tackle
the controlled
and game playing, all
of pleasurable pain and

body, so a discussionof the argumentssurroundingthesefour areasof investigation


forms the remainderof this chapter.

Imagining BDSM
A major difference between my thesis and most pre-existing work in film studies is
for
BDSM,
I
discussion
via
and
sadomasochism
masochism,
attempt
of sadism,
my
to move the debate from psychoanalytic theory to cultural experience. Directly
foundational
to
most considerations of painful
and
of
pain,
notions
engaging with
investigation,
BDSM
thorough
a consequence of which might
requires a
pleasures,
be an eschewing of importance away from the remaining three topics of body image,
four
for
is
intention
have
This
though,
all
categories
not
my
a major
art and games.

body.
However,
in
the
the
the
to
controlled
of
subject
wealth of material
play
role
is
the
called
sadomasochism,
usually
and
what
predominance of a
on
published
-38-

my
it
important
it,
to
where
appreciate
specific mode of understanding
makes
argumentsand beliefs originate, and how they differ from the prevalent conceptions
of thesethemes.
Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution

and Taboo (1991) seeks to account for the origins of beliefs concerning rituals,
forbidden social activities and notions of uncleanliness of the body. In a chapter
'External
Boundaries',
Douglas
entitled
rejects the misapprehension that personal
be
interpreted
differently to public rituals. As Douglas clarifies:
rituals should
Public rituals may express public concerns when they use inanimate door
body
but
human
the
are
posts or animal sacrifices:
public rituals enacted on
taken to express personal and private concerns. There is no possible
justification for this shift of interpretation just becausethe rituals work upon
human flesh. (1991,115)
Douglas's comments compel her to reject an interpretation of rituals from 'primitive'
human
in
development
'infantile
to
the
the
cultures as corresponding
stages
of
psyche' (1991,115),

declaring 'Psychological explanations cannot of their nature

for
is
distinctive'
(1991,121). Similarly, I contend that for
what
culturally
account
the study of BDSM in contemporary cinema, a dependence on psychoanalysis (with
its emphasis on repeating infantile events) is not appropriate; instead, we need to

focus on the subcultural meaningsof BDSM and relate them to the broader society.
However, such an objective is not an easy undertaking. BDSM in the movies is
it
is
it
is
investigated,
to
the structures
usually
applied
when
whilst
under-explored,
interaction
BDSM
dynamics
the
as a socially coded
of
are
of spectatorship, and
understated

in

comparison

with

the

psychoanalytic

readings.

Applying

Freudian/Lacaniantheories is understandablethough; BDSM as a subcultural pursuit


has been a persistent blind spot in theories of sadomasochism,with the focus being
deten-nined
not
psychosexual
meanings.
socially
ones. As
on psychoanalytical and

-39-

Weinberg and Falk have stated: 'The influence of such writers as Krafft-Ebing
[BDSMI
this
have
been
to obscurethe social aspectsof
may
...
behavior by defining it solely in terms of individual pathology' (1980,149). What I
and Sigmund Freud

therefore maintain needsto be ascertainedis the types of power structures,meanings


and roles explored via the controlled body in BDSM pursuits, and a comparison of
these with

in
displayed
the types of power structures, meanings and roles

contemporary mainstream cinema. To make such a challenge we need to appreciate

be
to
what needs
overcome.
The terms sadism and masochismdate back to 1885 and the first publication of
psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's book Psychopathia Sexualis. Setting sadism
in opposition to masochism, Krafft-Ebing derives the former from the Marquis de
Sade, whose stories linked cruelty and pain with sexual pleasure. According to
Kraffi-Ebing, sadism is an atavistic sexual perversion organized around 'an innate

desire to humiliate, hurt, wound or even destroy others in order thereby to create
in
However,
(1998,53).
'In
the civilized man of to-day,
sexual pleasure one's self
found,
but
in
lust
between
a weak and rather
and cruelty are
associations
degree'
(1998,54).
rudimentary

Further, Krafft-Ebing recognizes that in 'normal'

for
fun,
indulge
in
"
"just
lovers
'wrestle
together
all sorts of
will
sexual activity

horseplay' (1998,53), and 'in sexual heat will strike, bite or pinch the other' (1998,
53). From theseimpulsescan be tracedthe more extremesadism.
Categorizing the regression to the sadistic impulse as originating in 'psychical
degeneration' (1998,54), Krafft-Ebing believes it corresponds to a natural division

intercourse
between
'In
the
men
and
women:
of
of aggression and submissiveness
belongs
to man; woman remains passive,
the
the sexes,
active or aggressive r6le

defensive' (1998,56). With such reasoning, Kraffi-Ebing declares, 'Woman no


doubt derives pleasure from her innate coynessand the final victory of man affords
-40-

her intenseand refined gratification' (1998,54).


Through his medicalized approach,Krafft-Ebing constructsa separationwhereby
is
is
linked
sadism
to a natural male response of aggression, whilst masochism
divorced from 'normal' male sexuality. Simplistically, a male sadist is merely taking
things too far, whilst a male masochist is eschewingthe rules. Sigmund Freud saw
in
in
first
In
Three
Essays
Theory
terms.
sadism similar
published
on the
ofSexuality,
'
1910, Freud states: 'The sexuality of most male human beings contains an element
of aggressiveness -a

desire to subjugate' (1953,71),

in
it
is
the
and
grounded

biological need for 'overcoming the resistance of the sexual object' (1953,71).
Sadism, then, is only 'an aggressive component of the sexual instinct which has

become independentand exaggerated'(1953,71). However, both Freud and KrafftEbing had to contend with case studies that revealed large numbers of male
masochists.
Kraffi-Ebing defined masochism as being 'controlled by the idea of being
completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; of
7

being treated by this person as by a master,humiliated and abused' (1998,86). The


is
from
literature,
being
from
like
derived
Leopold
itself,
extrapolated
sadism,
word
his
'made
Sacher-Masoch
the
this
substratum of
who
perversion ...
writings'
von
(Kraffi-Ebing

1998,87). In spite of borrowing from his work, Krafft-Ebing was

described,
Sacher-Masoch
the
to
women such as
sadistic women
accept
unable
Wanda in Venusin Furs who declares:
have
dreadful
desire
has
hold
I
diabolical
taken
to
a
of
me;
see
curiosity
a
...
hear
last
to
to
at
your moansand
you tremble under my whip, seeyou suffer,
for
I
mercy, while go on whipping you without pity, until
screams,your cries
1989,186-187)
(Sacher-Masoch
lose
consciousness.
you
6 Although first published in 1910, Three Essayson the Theory ofSexuality underwent a series of
during
the
twenty
next
years.
of
editions
a
succession
in
changes
7 As Krafft-Ebing's stressingof the opposite sex suggests,he saw homosexuality alongside sadism
and masochism as a sexual perversion.

-41-

he
divide
Krafft-Ebing's reticence to accept female sadism conforms to the gender
later
into
on
forward
the
His
work
placed on aggression.
of
much
opinion was carried
sadismand masochism.
Freud initially concluded masochismin the male was 'further removed from the
normal sexual aim than its counterpart [sadism]' (1953,71).

However, what

distinguishes his view from Krafft-Ebing's is his belief that:


A sadist is always at the same time a masochist, although the active or the
him
in
be
developed
the
the
passive aspect of
perversion may
more strongly
his
and may represent
predominant sexual activity. (195 3,73)

Like Freud, Havelock Ellis disputesthe distinction betweensadism and masochism,


be
be
'may
they
they
stating
regarded as complementary emotional states;
cannot
regarded as opposed states' (1983,33). His view pre-empted more recent studies of
in
found
BDSM
Andreas
Spengler
'Most
participants
activities:
sadomasochists,
heterosexuals as well as homosexuals, alternate between these [active/passive,
in
his
leathersex
(1977,66);
G.
W.
Levi
Kamel
(gay
study of
sadist/masochist] roles'
BDSM) discovered 'the most exciting S [top] has also served as an M [bottom], and
the best M is capable of the S role' (Kamel 1983b, 171); and speaking on the
television programme Tokyo Bound (2000), professional dominatrix and writer on

BDSM, MaxX, affirmed 'the best mistresseslearn by being submissive'. Yet the
have
the
psychoanalytical theories,
persists,
as
and
masochism
sadism
gendering of

has
film
these
employed when considering spectatorial
studies
are what
and
identification.
Foundational to debatessurroundingmasochismand cinema is Kaja Silverman's
'Masochism and Subjectivity'

(1980). In an essay that typifies the dominant

interprets
Freud's
his
Silverman
account of
grandson's
psychoanalytical approach,

-42-

fort1da game and Lacan's theory of the mirror stage,8 and examines the belief that
loss
that
is
founded
pleasure
on repeating those painful moments of separationand
fon-n subjectivity. Instead of seeingloss being masteredlinguistically, and a pleasure
deriving from that, Silverman posits 'it is the pleasure of passivity, of subject-ion'

that is produced (1980,3). Thus, Silverman declares that 'the fascination of the
sadistic point of view is merely that it provides the best vantage point from which to
watch the masochistic story unfold' (1980,5).

Continuing with an analysis of Il

di
portiere
nottelThe Night Porter (Liliana. Cavani, Italy, 1973), Silverman's article
reinterprets the film as both expressing male masochism, and asserting the oscillation

between active and passive roles; but her emphasis remains on the relationship
betweenthe subject and the symbolic.
Using the work by Gilles Deleuze (1989) on de Sade and Sacher-Masoch,
Gaylyn Studlar in 'Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema' (1984)
applies the notion of the masochistic fantasy (based upon agreement and the
assumption of the childlike state of being controlled) to the spectatorial position.
Through being associated with a pre-genital stage of identification and desire, this

dispenses
divisions,
invites
with gender
and
conceptof masochism
a considerationof
9
but
based
submission to the gaze. Also
not on mastery of the gaze
viewing pleasures
interesting for emphasizing the importance of ritual and repetition in the act of
Studlar
still takes a much more psychoanalytical approach to masochism
masochism,
than 1.
In the chapters that follow, I replace the purely theoretical with an examination

define
that
the
masochisticpleasures
rituals and practicesof control and subjection
of
for their participants. Although film studies has not reflected it, other types of
8 See, for example, Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1955) and JacquesLacan, tcrits:
A clcction ( 1977).
Silverman later contestedStudlar's researchfor conflatingtn'Deleuze's oral mother with the preOedipal mother of object relations psychoanalysis' (1992,417, n50).

-43 -

discourse do exist around sadism and masochismvia a considerationof BDSM as a


physical pursuit: it is regarded as a result of childhood trauma and requiring
observation which may aid treatment (Stoller 1991), a paradoxical but transgressive
pleasure (MacKendrick 1999), and a (body) political act (see Merck 1993;
Thompson 1994).
Particularly useful to my project is Anne McClintock's

'Maid

to Order:

Commercial S/M and Gender Power' (1993), in which she scrutinizes the social
treatment and the cultural significance of BDSM. Exploring the demonizing of
BDSM, McClintock

summarizes the false categorization of male masochism as

perverse, and reveals the ritualized basis upon which BDSM is acted and policed.
Admirable for dispelling the myth that sadism infuses consensual BDSM, what
is not considered by McClintock

is the powerful dynamic between cinematic

depictions of sadistic control, and the evoked reading of BDSM pleasure that runs
parallel to the narrative. Falk and Weinberg (1983) note this bond as part of their
broader study of BDSM and its place in popular Western culture. As important as
their essay is, and I do draw upon it for various cultural precursors to BDSM
becoming a common feature in contemporary mainstream cinema, it is only one of a
by
insightful
Weinberg
together
essays collected
number of extremely
and Kamel in

S and M.- Studies in Sadomasochism(1983b). The contributions included are wide


by
Spengler
(1977)
Andreas
An
challenges assumptions
empirical study
and varied.
in.
by
Thomas
BDSM
engaged
and
activities
are
what
pleasures
analysing
of

Weinberg (1978) attempts an understanding of BDSM within the frame analysis


by
Goffman,
human
Erving
developed
interaction
which
sees
sociologist
perspective

being 'framed' by social definitions that provide specific contextual meaning to


behaviour. Consequently,the importanceof performancein BDSM is examined,and
for my research, it prompts issues of dramatizing control via costume. paraphernalia
-44-

These
BDSM.
Other
and excess.
essaysvaluably explore the social organization of
be
BDSM
finding
to
frequently
by
a
image
challengethe
equated
of random violence
1980;
Falk
is
(Weinberg
controlled and rational activity that socially meaningful
and
Kamel 1983b; Lee 1983).
In conjunction with a study by Hopkins (1994), as well as one by Hart and Dale,
who contend that BDSM is 'less a polarized expression of a master's power over a

slave than a mutual exchangeof power' (1997,345), 1 am able to locate some of the
painful pleasures possible in BDSM, and assesshow the cinematic controlled body

denies
them. Such a socially and culturally grounded model of BDSM
confirms or
fresh
interpretation
how
images
allows a
of
of
we understandand use cinematic
suffering.

Body Image Culture


Prior to the 1980s, most scholarly work that discussed body modification
in
(Levi-Strauss
1963;
Polhemus
concentrated on exwnples
non-Western societies
1978). But the penultimate decade of the last century witnessed an explosion of
interest in how and why these techniques were becoming more prolific in Western

Marks
Civilization:
Rubin's
Artistic
Arnold
of
essays
of
edited collection
societies.
Transformations of the Human Body (1988) became a foundational text on body art,
and encompassed anthropological,

sociological,

historical
art

body
Considering
topic.
to
the
modification
approaches

folkloric
and

as a meaningful act

involving beliefs and cultural significance, the collection examined both nonWestern societies and the tattoo renaissance in the USA. The following

year,

Sanders's book Customizing the Body: The Art and Culture of Tattooing (1989)

development
body
the
in
of
of
a
specific
modification
overview
an
practice
offered
Western society, whilst Vale and Juno producedModern Primitives: An Investigation
-45-

of Contemporary Adornment & Ritual (I 989b), which brought together a mix of


anthropological inquiry and anecdotal interviews on themes of tattooing, piercing,

scarification and body adornment. Considering the subcultural significance of a


range of body modifications, Vale and Juno's collection of essays sought
comparisons between historic and contemporary practices in the formation of the
concept of Modem Primitivism, and investigatedshifts in attitudestowards ritual and
the control of the human body.
Subsequently,numerousacademicbooks and articles have beenproducedon the
(for
subject
example Mascia-Lees and Sharpe 1992c; Myers 1992; Caplan 2000), as
issue
well as a whole
of Body and Society. In the latter, Christian Klesse (1999) and
Bryan S. Turner (1999) challenge the appropriateness and accuracy of the concept of
Modem Primitivism: the former arguing it is a postcolonial Processof 'othering', the
latter suggesting the change in social context so transforms the meaning of marking

the body to make the comparisonerroneous.


What is helpful for my research is that the debates engage with the values

in
body
in
modification contemporarysociety, and thereforeoffer a
embedded acts of
in
films.
discussions
body
In
board
for
particular,
my
of
modification
sounding
David Curry, in 'Decorating the Body Politic' (1993), suggests the pleasures of

bodily control for the participants, and differentiates the motivation of fashionable
display from that of BDSM

Paul
Sweetman
also examines the
experience.

Body
SeIP
Modification,
in
(Postmodem)
fashion
'Anchoring
the
significance of
Fashion and Identity' (I 999b). Through a collection of interviews with a variety of

body modifiers, he arguestattoos and piercings shareaffinities and differences with


frequently
body
acting as anti-fashion and a means to
projects,
other contemporary
both
In
is
articles, a strong emphasis
placed on the
construct a sense of identity.

involved.
physical sensations
-46-

In 'Only Skin Deep? Tattooing, Piercing and the TransgressiveBody' (I 999a),


Sweetman goes further in his analysis of the physical experience of body
but
body,
involves
a
the
modification, and assertsthat the act
over
not a control
control of it, whereby its sensitivity is intensified and the meaning of the natural
(interior/exterior, male/female) is brought into question. SusanBenson has extended
the debate in more anthropological language in 'Inscriptions of the Self. Reflections
on Tattooing

and Piercing

in

Contemporary Euro-America'

(2000), whilst

Westernized
pressurizing
conceptions of the body and self.

Also pertinent in respect of debatesabout body image is the disabled body (see
Cash and Pruzinsky 1990; Barton 1996; Davis 1997). Both Tom Shakespeare(1996)
Rosemarie
Garland
Thomson (1997) scrutinize the perception and reality of
and
disabled
the
sexuality and
subject. Shakespeareconcentrates on the potential power
develop,
both
that
relationships
can
negative, in terms of abuse (relating it to other
Foucauldian
abuses
of
and
via
a
sexual
power),
positive,
concept of resistance to
Thomson
is
the
engagement.
power, and
exploratory unconventionality of sexual
linking
discourses
female
body
the
surrounding
cultural
expressly concerned with
body,
in
disabled
to
the
those
particular through concepts of nonnalcy.
relating
with

In essence,debatesabout body modification and the disabled body impinge on


be
body
discussion
their
the
of
what
visualization
can
via
painful
suffering
of
my
body
body
In
takes
the
the
the
on
seemingly
adornment,
of
case
conditions.
feature
key
is
Of
thesis.
of my
similar
contradictory state of painful pleasure, which a

importance, and as I mentioned earlier in this chapter, arguments centred on the


disabled body bring to my work a difference between disfigurement and
debate
Together,
the
two
the
articulate contemporary
strands of
refigurement.

body
in
its
imagery
the
to
towards
pain,
and
relationship
of
control.
attitudes

-47-

Art and the Performance of Suffering


The current interest in aestheticizingthe suffering body is not limited to the cinema,
10
The
is
(1998),
by
Vile
Bodies
as attested
recent television programmes such as
South Bank Show: 'Body Art' (1998), and World of Pain (2002), all of which
highlight the notion of art and artistic performance of pain. To enable me to analyse

the cinematic displays of the controlled body, I have drawn on contemporarydebates


in the fine arts where the suffering body has recently been brought to the fore
through exhibitions such as Spectacular Bodies and renewed interest in anatomy as

11
entertainment.
David Freedberg's inquiry in The Power of Images: Studies in the History and
Theory of* Response (1989) is founded on the ability of artistic images (paintings,
)
sculptures, wax models, etc. to create a response in the viewer. Freedberg's
is
broadly
to
the
sketch
enterprise
recurrent responses (physical actions, beliefs, etc.)

that have been recorded and recognized through history, but which have been
by
overwhelmed
a valorization of a critical response derived from an aesthetic
has
Fundamentally,
this
appreciation.
a considerable relevance to my work, not least
because I am examining how graphic cinematic images are likely to affect the
films
frequently
imagery
in
because
but
the
types
the
of
mimic or refer
also
viewer,
to traditional iconography, whilst simultaneously referring to the image's historical
legacy.
Nigel Spivey's Enduring Creation: Art, Pain and Fortitude (200 1) functions as a

for
both
book,
images
Freedberg's
to
text
are
concerned
writers
with
complementary
horrific
in
highly
feature
display
the
that
that
aestheticized ways: a
pain and

10Although Vile Bodies is comprised of three parts, only two of them, 'Naked' and 'The Dead'
directly addressthe topic.
11The increasedinterest in anatomy fused with art is witnessed in the television documentaries
Raiders of the Human BoqY (I 998), Anatomy of Disgust - part 3 (2000) and TheAnatomists (2002).

-48-

history
that
films
inquiry.
Spivey
permeatesthe
constructsa work of cultural
of my
blends the various approachesof art, philosophy, literature and history to negotiate
the complex matrix of art and pain, and the associatedqualities of beauty and
disfigurement, horror and ecstasy. Unlike Freedberg, Spivey's emphasis is on the
composition of the imagery, noting how art has frequently had recourse to apply
accepted iconography to articulate concepts of suffering and pain. Spivey asks why
have
have
been
images
the
artists
preoccupied with showing suffering, what causes

been put to, and if pain can ever be beautiful. The artistic serial killer subgenre
latter
in
Lester,
for
L.
Blowback
(Mark
the
the
answers
affirmative, with,
example,
Canada/USA, 1999) having the cathartic imagery of the martyred saints becoming

the spectacleof deathdevisedby a serial killer.


The premise that the serial killer is an artist is not new. Thomas De Quincey
proposed the idea in 1827 in 'On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts: First
12
Paper' (I 897a). In The Aesthetics of Murder: A Study in Romantic Literature and

Contemporary Culture (1991), Joel Black explores De Quincey's assertion by


killer
in
fiction.
depictions
Observing
the
the
of
actual
violence
and
considering
in
literature,
Romantic
he
the
of
murder
and
recurrence
murderer's artistic role,
links
it
to theories of the sublime.
the
aestheticizationof violence, and
recognizes
Maria Tatar (1995) also examines fictional and factual accounts of murder, but
Germany.
Compellingly,
in
Weimar
Tatar
her
to
sexual murder
research
confines
looks at a particular society's fascination with suffering, especially the violated

female body, and notesthe intersectionof art and murder in the paintings of Otto Dix
film.
in
literature
its
Grosz,
George
and
as well as place
and
The associationof serial killers and artists is not a mere academicfancy though,
12Although first published as 'On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts'. after the subsequent
in
for
1854',
'Postscript
Paper'
the
title
'Second
the
the
was
used
and
composite series.
of
publication
in
by
individual
the addition of their respective subtitles.
the
identified
the
have
series
entries
I

-49-

for not only has it enteredthe popular culture of the films I discussin Chapter 4, but
killers,
FBI
investigators.
Former
also the mindset of actual murder
profiler of serial
John Douglas, has stated this of his previous employment:
I always tell my agents, 'If you want to understand the artist, you have to
look at the painting. ' We've looked at many 'paintings' over the years and
talked extensively to the most 'accomplished' 'artists'. (Douglas and
Olshaker 1997,32)

Such discourses permeate the artistic serial killer subgenre and its spectacle of
suffering.
Amongst the general studies of performance art (see Goldberg 1988; Jones and

Stephenson1999), specific debateshave also focused on the performance of pain.


Kathy O'Dell's Contract with the Skin: Masochism, Performance Art, and the 1970s

(1998) chronicles many of the performanceartists and their works from the 1970sin
discover
behind
having
displays
to
the
a search
meanings
such public
as
yourself
book
basic
historical
framework
The
shot, and sewing your mouth shut.
provides a
of
body
involving
body
it
the
type
of
art
control of
via suffering, whilst
a specific

blended
that
masochismand performanceto
simultaneouslyrevealsan art movement
impact
The
of this combination of pain and pleasure
cultural
produce works of art.

in
films
discussed
in
be
found
the
my thesis.
can
Ted Polhemus and Housk Randall (1994; 1996) have mapped the intricate

benefit
Of
is
body
to
their
my
particular
work
meanings.
rituals and
network of
Polhemus's solo essay 'The Perfonnance of Pain' (1998), for its useful set of reasons
for undertaking manipulations of the body involving physical pain: consciousnessdecoration
body
financial
and erotic stimulation.
profit,
raising/spiritual enrichment,
By considering context, especially the existence and nature of an audience, Polhemus
forms
body
Although
between
the
pursuits.
of
painful
various
only ever
gaps
restores

have
divisions
these
the
collapsed
under
continuums,
of
weight of
set
a
on
points
-50-

interest in the physicality of the human body. But the necessity of his theorizing
obligates an exploration, not of the distinctions, but of the culturally coalescedacts
and imagery, namely the controlled body, for what were once discrete acts are
increasingly fused in contemporary culture in a pursuit of pleasurable pain.
By engaging with the work already fonnulated in respect of art and the
performance of suffering, I bring to my thesis an appreciation of current debates

about the aesthetic and cognitive attributes associated with representing the
body.
The material reveals the debt of tradition, but also pinpoints a
controlled
changewithin Western society that has reintroducedthe body as a site of performed
suffering. But what I in turn bring to these studies is a conceptualization of how
is
contemporary cinema situated within these circulating discourses of visual culture.

Art's (re)new(ed) emphasis on the injured, tormented and subjugated body for
spectatorial gratification (whether rhapsodic or willed disgust) has been noted, and

has manifested itself as mainstreamcinema's controlled body, the representationof


both
its
heritage.
which,
acknowledges,and reinterprets,

Playing Games
The final area of research to touch on the controlled body is the notion of play. Johan
Huizinga in Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture is resolute that
6genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilization'

(1970,23). Although

his
in
he
through
tracking
of
play
many
of
what
claims
making some excessive
(law,
be
),
the
to
philosophy,
war,
poetry,
art,
etc. and
pillars of civilization
perceives
imagined
chivalric
offering a strikingly elitist and prejudicial opinion privileging an
he
Thus,
defines
it
he
and
persuasive
paradigm
of
play.
relevant
a
provides
as a
past,

its
boundaries
life,
Roger
Caillois
in
Man,
with
own
and
rules.
ordinary
spaceoutside
Play, and Games (1961) forms a similar conclusion, seeing the governed space
-51 -

allowing uncertainty to be freely undertakenand experienced.


I
for
but
5,
formulations
in
Chapter
will elaborate on their
now shall merely
in
point out that their construction of play establishes a controlled environment

which risk, pain and abandonment of control can be temporarily and securely
enjoyed. Having such a perception affords deliberations on both extreme sports and
In
body.
in
to
take
video games
on a particular pertinence relation to the controlled
in
former,
David
Le
Breton
'amateur
the
the
respect of
examines why
sportsmen

West have today startedundertaking long and intensive ordealswhere their capacity
to resist increasing personal suffering is all-important' (2000,1). His discussion of

how these sports allow the experiencing of emotions excluded in other parts of life,
including pain and feeling in control, align the sport directly with the painful
body
BDSM
pleasures of
and
modification. In conjunction with more general studies
body
the
of
and sport (see Hargreaves 1986; Messner and Sabo 1990; Featherstone,
Hepworth and Turner 1991; Whannel 1999), it is possible to determine a shift in
films
have
that
absorbed.
some mainstream
sporting pleasures
In terms of video games, the notion of control is equally important, with
(Gailey
it
1993;
Taylor
them
playing
participants stating as a primary pleasure when
2002). Furthermore, the games themselves are rule-governed, giving only the illusion
2002),
Squire
2000;
Jenkins
(Poole
thus
enabling a pleasurable
and
of control
Green,
Reid
Bigum
1986;
(Skirrow
1998;
and
experience of anxiety and suffering

Poole 2000), the very combination expressedin the film The Game.Indeed, the twin
highly
through
suitable
material
provide
video
games
sports
and
pastimes of extreme

body.
the
the
controlled
of
pleasures
painftil
express
can
cinema
which

A Unified Approach
from
is
be
the
What should
work surveyed above that even though the
apparent
-52-

in
discussed
to
been
dominated
many
has
body
suffering,
alluded
or
and controlled
academicfields, it has been approacheddisparately,so has not beentreatedas part Of
a unified concept. I have already acknowledgedthe differences between consensual
BDSM acts and cinematic representations of torture, and recognize the distinctions
between didactic religious iconography and the entertainment of film narratives, but
this in no way discounts the pertinence of the study. Imaginative energy may initially

be required to locate the similarities between a murder sceneand an extreme sport,,


but once achieved, they can be enlightening. Indeed, by overlapping BDSM, body
modification, the art and performance of suffering, and playing games, they combine
for mutual clarity via the concept of the controlled body. What my perspective
is
stresses the relevance of investigating the culturally significant theme of depicting
(and enjoying) suffering, and the need to situate mainstream cinema's fascination
body
the
the
with
spectacle of
controlled
within

discourses.

-53 -

the existing pleasures and

2. Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and


Sadomasochism (BDSM) at the Movies
Torture, murder.
Sounds great.
It ain't exactly sex.
Says who?
Max Renn (JamesWood) speakingwith Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) in Videodrome
(David Cronenberg,Canada, 1982)

In the wake of Laura Mulvey outlining a sadistic male gaze in 'Visual Pleasure and

Narrative Cinema' (1975), and the subsequent reconsideration of spectatorial


for
pleasureas a possible site
masochisticpleasurefor the male observer (Willemen
'
1981; Neale 1983; Hutchings 1993b; P. Smith 1993), it is surprising that not more

analysis has focused on cinematic depictions of violence that throb with the
BDSM.
Some
it
but
to
resonance of
purport
address
misappropriate 'sadomasochism'
is
(Gitlin
their
when violence
sole concern

1991). Others approach BDSM by

but
isolate
in
the
the
psychoanalytic
analysing
masochist's position
reading
Studlar
1984);
(Silverman
1980;
the culturally encoded meanings of
vocabulary
BDSM are therefore neglected. My research is intended to take account of these
for
by
inscribed
only
achieving a clearer
motivations and pleasures,
socially
determine
its
BDSM
to
whether the
Participants can we
means
understanding of what
depictions
correlate with
cinematic

deny
the essence of their controlled
or

interactions. As such, I will examine how BDSM has become more prevalent in

how
been
it
has
the
how
and
subculturally
conceptualized,
and
received
cinema,
depictions.
in
displaced
is
the
common submissivemale
The controlled body has been integral to both the narrative and spectacle of
formal
history,
films
these
two
the
throughout
components
yet
of
cinematic
many

film are not always in unison: where the narrative stressessadism, the spectacle

' Mulvey's theoretical framework already assumessuch masochism for female spectatorsif they resist
taking on the masculine position of spectatorship.
I

-54-

frequently suggestsmasochism,or a blurring of the two. A product of the divergence


is, I will suggest, a parallel reading of these moments that has strong correlations to
BDSM interactions. My aim is not to reclassify these scenes, but to point to the
potential of other readings and their differing pleasures. But these readings are not
merely arbitrary, for they already exist within the BDSM subculture, and frequently
influence the structuring of role-play within the subculture itself
Traditionally,

European cinema has had a much greater penchant than

Hollywood for BDSM. However, in the last thirty years or so, greater cultural
awareness has made BDSM a more prominent feature in Hollywood cinema. Further,
films
European
had customarily featured consensual punishment of
the
whilst
earlier

the female body, the more recent depictions have drawn on male masochism.Yet,
Hollywood persists in demonizing BDSM. It continues to code the consensual sexual
destructive,
domination,
it
it
for
illicit
the
activity as
sadistic
whilst
mines
pleasures
Before
Hollywood
of a sexualized use of power.
questioning why
might prefer a

for
body
is
the
to
that
explicitly marked as
sadistic scenario
controlled
one
films,
how
but
is
BDSM
Hollywood
I
to
to
permeates
earlier
point
masochistic, wish

hidden and disavowed.

Hollywood,

Subterfuge and BDSM

Many of the films I would categorize as containing BDSM appeared in George De

Coulteray's book Sadism in the Movies (1965). The question therefore arises as to
how a scene in a Hollywood film that is characterized by the narrative as sadistic
defined
by
be
interpreted
BDSM,
domination
consent not
torture or
as
a pursuit
can
inter-textual
is
based
My
textual,
three
on
strands of argument:
reasoning
oppression.

and audienceappropriation.
In respect of the text, we need to look at a few examples. Francis (John Kerr)
-55 -

being forcibly tied beneath a swinging axe in The Pit and the Pendulum (Roger
Corman, USA, 1961) magnificently illustrates the sadistic inclination of Nicholas
(Vincent Price). Francis shows no pleasure before, during or after the event. But the
scene is so overwhelmingly spectacular, fusing psychedelic splashes of colour with
the incessant swinging of the blade, that the image intoxicates the spectator via its

aestheticized suffering of the body. The fascination in the spectacle far exceeds
narrative motivation, allowing a potential for BDSM properties.
The very excess of the staged dominance can therefore prompt a text to resonate

with BDSM. The elaboratemethods of planned death employed in The Mask of Fu


Manchu (Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor, USA, 1932) include being placed
between two slowly advancing blocks of spikes, and strapped to a plank gradually

descending into a pit of crocodiles as sand runs out of a counterbalance.In the


former, the propensity for a BDSM reading is enlivened by the straining body oozing
be
for
fetishistic
The
though,
sensuality.
staging need not
so ostentatious
certain
elements such as whips, masks and manacles can suffice, as can mere ropes and
bondage, for as Weinberg and Kamel note of BDSM, 'Often, it is the notion of being
helpless and subject to the will of another that is sexually titillating'

(1983a, 20).

Thus, the majority of films set in antiquity, whether biblical tales, Roman epics or
Greek myths, offer much in the way of BDSM

iconography through their

deployment of enslavement.

In other instances,narrative elementscollaborate with the spectacleto reinforce


the BDSM reading. In many films, the act of enduring and then overcoming is
is
defines
himself
(the
how
the
character nearly always male).
character
crucial to

Films where the hero must suffer before vanquishing induce a masochisticreading to
bubble beneath the narrative surface. An example would be Tarzan (Johnny
Weissmuller) in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (Kurt Neumann, USA, 1946).
-56-

Having been captured,tied to a stake and maimed by the leopard womansclaw (she
also wears a fetishistic leopard skin), he escapes,rescues the women awaiting
Of
disciples.
her
destroys
leopard
killing
sacrifice, and
the
the temple,
woman and
his
lack
Tarzan's
to
in
the
course,
of consent
narrative never relents
stressing

bondage,but it is essentialfor his characterto endure, for only having suffered can
he fight back. In effect, in addition to proving his bravery by bearing the pain, he
Paul
first.
based
honour
hitting
experiences a moral pleasure
on upholding an
of not

Smith (1993) has noted a similar structurein relation to Clint Eastwood,whereby the
body
is
homoeroticism
destruction
is
denied
by
then
the
torture
male
eroticized,
and
body,
before
hero
the
the
of
emergestriumphant. In other words, the tone of male
is
masochism recuperated and actually functions to serve patriarchal codes and
However,
than
them.
gender roles rather
undermine
my reading suggests that the
if
the
the
the
attempted closure, especially
excess of
suffering can overwhelm
has
found
in
those other moments.
spectator
gratification
A similar textual example assimilates the endurance with the superiority of onefilms,
in
James
Bond
humour.
Occurring
the witticisms
most consistently
upmanship
Bond
torture,
the
the
suggesting
whilst
enjoys
and
of
capture
seriousness
undercut
in
himself:
by
As
his
to
essence,
a
sign
of
consent.
extricating
worth
prove
chance
be
directly
Bond's
to
Tarzan,
the
willingness
punished,
exposes
narrative never
with
for these instances of wry comment provide the opportunity to prove his
imperviousness to pain, and so simultaneously disavow his suffering and masochistic
2
enjoyment of the challenge.

Likewise, the finding of a method of death that is deemed 'worthy of such an


between
'victim' and 'torturer'.
be
to
illustrious opponent' can utilized imply consent
2 Recently Jeffrey A. Brown (2002) has made a similar casefor Mel Gibson. Gibson's personaas a
Brown
Gibson's
be
both
him
tough
to
and
sees
and
a
sex
symbol,
guy
a
male ideal requires
for
body
is
the
tortured
their
torture
compatibility,
objectified yet
as ensuring
wisecracks under
masterful.

-57-

Besides Bond films, the strategy occurs in Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman
(Roy William Neill, USA, 1944). Worried that his death 'should be reduced to
be
it
is
Rathbone)
bullet',
(Basil
Holmes
anything as conventional as a
assured will
'nothing so trite': he is tied to a model of Hitler at a shooting gallery, and his heart
(the symbol of love) is positioned where the metal target had been. The consensual
charge of the scene is confinned by the irony that it is Dr Watson (Nigel Bruce) who
is, unknowingly, shooting at his long-term companion. 3

Interpretations such as those illustrated above, which suggestcharactersexhibit


find
features,
disregarded
his
in
In
to
masochistic
are unashamedly
quest
studies.
in
have
heroes
De
Coulteray
it
happens
'If
the
the
that
sadism
movies,
states:
themselves flogged, or tied up, this is never from a taste for passivity, but for erotic
purposes exactly as when they take the active part' (1965,149). His eagerness to
deny any passivity is a major clue to our understanding the threat of BDSM, but the
in
have
finished
BDSM
tour
of
our
significance must remain unexplored until we
films that do no explicitly depict it.
BDSM is perhaps most flagrant in the text when the scene already contains a
(Myma
Loy)
Fah-Lo-See
Fu
Manchu,
The
Mask
In
rapturously
of
sexual element.
her
bare-chested
black
faster'
'faster,
the
slaves whip
gleaming
as we watch
cries

detainee
her
has
Afterwards,
placed on a sumptuousottoman where she
she
prisoner.
kisses what she calls his 'not entirely unhandsome'body. Of course, the narrative
interpretation.
is
but
his
to
her
the
scene open
masochism,
emphasizes sadismnot
Potential BDSM scenes are not limited to torture either. The numerous films of
Donovan's
(e.
is
knee
Reef
female
Wayne
John
g.
and spanked
put over a
where a
V.
McLaglen,
2.1),
McLintock!
(Andrew
USA,
(figure
1963)
USA,
Ford,
(John

films
Watson's
do
the
that
the
on
married
status,
commented
stories
original
not put
. Unlike some of
is
Watson
Holmes
it,
the
as
partners
even
and
more
pronounced.
of
sense
so
on
emphasis
an

-58 -

U0P

(PlflM

fl.

II

Figure 2.1 Advertising the spanking delights of Donovan's Reef

1963) and True Grit (Henry Hathaway, USA, 1969)) are prime examples of BDSM.
This aspect of his films has not gone unnoticed, with clips being shown in the
Spankarama cinema in London (Campbell 1996,36) and featuring in compilation
d.
in
(Moviespank
)
Elvis
Presley
Blue
Hawaii
(Norman
Taurog,
videos
n.
along with
USAq 1961) and Harold Lloyd chastising a flapper girl as he writes 'The Secret of
Making Love' in Girl Shy (Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, USA, 1924) (figure
2.2). Because of the emotional involvement in these scenes, the sense of love and
fusion.
differentiates
films
intermingled
into
BDSM
What
from
is
these
a
violence
those previously mentioned is that it is the female body that suffers by being

4
love
doubt
the
context.
a result of
spanked:no
What all these textual elements provide is a BDSM scenario, of which, many are
defined by a different temporal or spatial location to that of the film's exhibition (the
jungle,
fantasy
book,
Ages,
Middle
).
the
the
torture
the
a
of
etc.
chamber
old west,
Ostensibly, this may keep the threat of BDSM at arm's length, but it also plays into
its hands, for certain images lend themselves to BDSM, as it is 'a theatre of

4 Exceptions to this tend to be schoolboy based,and involve the use of an implement such as a cane,
bracketed
f..
(UK,
1968),
from
Anderson's
in
Lindsay
these
love.
for
and
are
a
context
of
example
as

-59-

Figure 2.2 Chastising the flapper girl in Girl Shy

conversion' (McClintock

1993,208). BDSM acts as a magpie: pilfering sparkling

domination
from
beyond.
Hollywood
For example, the
images of
and submission
and
black leather executioner's mask has become equally recognizable as a sign of
BDSM or as a unifon-n of office. In turn, the paraphernalia, settings and concepts
in
films
does
form
It
the
and repeat
cycle.
not
a postmodernist pastiche
reappear
images
it
that are part of a particular visual
rather
codes concepts of control via
language of aestheticized suffering. A Freddie Krueger costume is unlikely to
become part of the BDSM club culture, yet someone dressed as Pinhead from
Hellraiser (Clive Barker, UK, 1987), a film that explores notions of pain, and
features a body suspended via hooks embedded in the flesh, can (see the television
imagery
Thus,
2001).
Vampires
American
and actions
specific cinematic
programme
degrees
implied
into
of
tap
consent;
a rich vein of visualized control with varying
they are (BDSM) sceneswithin scenes.
In respect of my second line of argument for interpreting explicit sadism within a
BDSM framework. inter-textual knowledge explains audience expectations. Some of

be
found
in
BDSM
191
Os
blatant
the
the
to the
can
serials
of
of
scenes
the most
-60-

1950s, and their close cousins, the feature film series starring Tarzan, Sherlock
Holmes, Fu Manchu, JamesBond and Indiana Jones.Best rememberedin the early
USAq
for
MacKenzie,
Donald
The Perils of Pauline (Louis J. Gasnier and
years

1914), the serials developed into what would be known as 'cliffhangers, In these
--
serials, an excruciating death usually awaited the central protagonist at the end of
each weekly episode, but at the beginning of each new episode, the character

6
somehowmanagedto escape.
Frequently, but by no means uniquely, it was a male protagonist awaiting his
fate. At times it may have been merely jumping out of a runaway vehicle before it

but
Flash
far
times
the
plunged over a cliff,
at other
sceneswere
more convoluted:
Gordon (Buster Crabbe) spread-eagledin the static room in Flash Gordon (Frederick
Stephani and Ray Taylor, USA, 1936) (figure 2.3), Nyoka (Kay Aldridge) in Perils
descending
(William
Witney,
USA,
1942),
Nyoka
trapped
spiked ceiling
under a
of
(figure 2.4), and Rex Bennett (Rod Cameron) braced for the impending buzz saw in
Secret Service in Darkest Aftica (Spencer Gordon Bennet, USA, 1943) (figure 2.5).

These moments of domination and utter subjection are only establishedto allow the
The
these
the
to
aware
of
conventions
were
of
period
audiences
escape.
protagonist

it
body
knowing
be
the
the
would
only
suffering
spectacleof
and so could enjoy
how
before
the escapewould
temporary, albeit with possibly a one week wait
seeing

7
take place. Thesesceneswere as much escapologyas torture.
With the demise of the serials in the 1950s,the format of suffering and escape

5 The Perils of Pauline series actually had self-contained stories.


6 Sometimes these moments were more integrated into the body of the story, but they had a similar
urpose.
A character in a more recent film. Misery (Rob Reiner, USA, 1990). mentions the structure of the
(or
Bates)
the
(Kathy
the
Annie
cliffhanger
chapter
contrivance
of
play as she
criticizes
clifthanger.
being
feeling
the
the
it),
the
week
as
character
escaped
cheated
each
apparently
of
stressing
calls
footage
different
to the preceding week's climax. Misery seemsto
inescapablevia the showing of
having
Shelton
(James
is
Paul
Caan)
in
it
bondage
how
being
to
escape,
easy
of
and
the
notion
reverse
film.
for
Annie
the
by
whole
virtually
the possessive
tortured

-61 -

tja!
Figure 2.3 Flash Gordon spread-eagled in the static room in Flash Gordon

DOOM

ASCENDING

Figure 2.4 Lobby card showing Nyoka trapped in Perils of Nyoka

/I,

jo

Service
in
Secret
in
Darkest
buzz
Africa
Bennett
the
Rex
2.5
saw
Figure
under

-62-

moved on: 'If any cinematic genre inherited the mantle of the Saturday matinee
in
Rissik
serials and Pearl White tied to the rails, it was James Bond' (Andrew
Chapman 1999,20-21).

A quintessential example is found in Goldfinger (Guy

Hamilton, UK, 1964). Bond (Sean Connery) is tied spread-eagledon a solid gold
table, and an industrial laser slowly tracks up betweenhis legs towards his groin. The
sceneupdatesthe version in the novel, which had the serial film's stalwart menaceof
8

buzz
a
saw terrorizing Bond's crotch.

As the laser threatens, Bond blurts out: 'Do you expect me to talk? ' Goldfinger
(Gert Frobe) replies, 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. ' Discounting our knowledge
from
garnered
countless viewings of the scene, we do not expect Bond to die; we
expect Bond to escape and Goldfinger to die. Thus, Bond talks his way out of the
bondage before eventually dispatching Goldfinger, and this is the narrative pleasure.
But the narrative is not in concordance with the pleasure of the excessive spectacle of
by
Described
G.
Zorzoli
B.
suffering.
as 'entirely gratuitous exhibition' (in Chapman

1999,105), the scene stressesdomination and submission through a narrative of


but
punishment,
within an erotic context of the sexualized target of pain. That we
know Bond will escape justifies our relishing his moment of utter subjection, but

denarrativized;
inevitable
is
forgotten
film
is
the
the
escape
and the
momentarily
in
itself.
The
BDSM
directly
is
the
to
quotient
of
scene
relates
spectacle experienced

how successfully the narrative of Bond's assured extrication is withheld at that


juncture. In effect, the contractual agreementbetweenthe audienceand the narrative
forgotten.
be
must
is
for
in
term
the
the
contract
significant
contractual,
respect of
purposely use

Sacher-Masoch's
founded
Leopold
tales
were
von
of
masochism
partly
masochism.

8 Richard Maibaum, co-writer of the screenplay,explained that the circular saw episode was 'oldfashioned, hackneyed and ridiculous' (in Chapman 1999,105).

-63-

the
his
women
in
gave
on
contract
own relationships with women, which a signed
rights over his body. These pacts provide a tangible example of the consentpresent
in BDSM,, but also point to how the subculture negotiates its dangers. BDSMers

Stoller
Robert
boundaries,
based
establish
on trust which
and these contracts are
describes as operating so that 'within the illusion of danger is the already arranged
promise that absolute limits will not be exceeded' (1991,19). Thus, 'The art of
sadomasochism... is its theater', where the aim is 'to play within the rules of the
be
limits'
(1991,19).
to
the
game while seeming - with exquisite nuance exceeding
The contract must remain unspoken during the acts of BDSM, otherwise the
is
being
lost.
The
totally
totally
pleasures of
controlled and
same true
controlling are
for the films. During the depiction of the controlled body, the inexorableness of
Bond's
free
be
knowledge
However,
the
of
overlooked.
getting
must
contractual
is
deemed
for
the spectator to securely enjoy the masochistic and/or
necessary
escape
being
Just
his
body
in
tormented.
as a masochist
seeing
prone
sadistic pleasure
have
too
the
to
consented to watch the
punishment s/he enjoys, we
consents

be
killed.
from
it
knowing
Bond
Our
derive
will
not
pleasure
punishment and
between
BDSM
body
is
to
that
therefore
the
equivalent
controlled
contract with
participants.

But the narrative insistence on sadism functions as an additional safety net; it


incessantly strives to override the contract between the controlled body and the
developed
the
through
by
that
tone
the
expectation
of
masochism
obscuring
audience

is
destined
Bond's
In
before
Bond will suffer
escape regardedas
overcoming. effect,
his
body;
from
but
derive
by
the
controlled
we
satisfaction
only partially authorizing

legitimately
is
he
torture.
to
being told
we can
enjoy his
sadistic
subjected
masochistic endeavours.
both
the character's masochistic
Thus, the narrative emphasison sadism cloaks
-64-

impulse and our own spectatorial enjoyment of BDSM. What this suggestsis the
occlusion of a threat posed by recognizing the pleasures of BDSM. and masochism
in particular. The treatment of BDSM in the movies therefore has a social dimension,

that of cultural disavowal of the masochisticpleasures.


The third constituent for my contention that scenesof coercion and torture are
potential sites of BDSM, in spite of their lack of explicit consent, is how they
in
the BDSM subculture itself In addition to the 'spanking' compilation
resurface
films mentioned earlier, Robert Stoller has noted that 'There are pornographic films
for sadomasochists made up entirely of pieces spliced together from legitimate

(1991,10),
movies'
whilst a website, under the umbrella of the Society for Human
Sexuality (1994), lists 'Mainstream films featuring BDSM practices'. Naturally
enough, the inventory includes Belle de jour (Luis Buftuel, France/Italy, 1967), 9'2
Weeks (Adrian Lyne, USA, 1986), and iAtame! lTie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Pedro
Almodovar, Spain, 1989). However, a few titles may surprise, notably Naked Lunch

(David Cronenberg,Canada/UK, 1991), selectedfor its aliens tied in suspension,and


Disney's animation feature Aladdin (Ron Clements and John Musker, USA, 1992),
9
because
Princess
in
Jasmin
of
serving
chains. Exhibiting signs of
which was chosen
list
by
fans
fascinating
than
the
a comprehensive survey,
chosen
rather
an eclectic

issueis the breadth of films BDSM can be found in, and not by an imposedacademic
but
via readingsaudiencesactively achieve.
reading,
Bob Flanagan, the subject of one of the films I will discuss in detail in this
for
inspiration
BDSM.
In
his
of
sources
chapter, mentions other equally unlikely
influences
his
lifestyle;
he
'
'supermasochistic'
the
'Why:
various
on
explains
poem

included are the expectedcultural referencesof Houdini, Mutiny on the Bounty, The

9 The scene in. 41addinis compared with one featuring a chained PrincessLeia (Carrie Fisher) in
is
1983),
USA,
Marquand,
(Richard
Jedi
which
also recommended.
Return of the

-65-

Pit and the Pendulum, and cowboys and Indians, but also the playroom in The
Addams Family, and most strikingly, 'Porky Pig in bondage' (Flanagan 1985,64).
The latter transpires to be Pigs is Pigs (I. [Friz] Freleng, USA, 1937), featuring a

generic pig, which Flanagandescribesas 'a very SM cartoon with a lot of bondage
and force-feeding' (in Juno and Vale 1993,59).

As can be seen from the

advertisementfor the film (figure 2.6), it is not a distorted reading that produced a
BDSM correlation. Flanagan recognizes his attraction to the image, and is prepared

to elucidate it. Recurrently though, any acknowledgement of pleasure derived


directly from an image of 'suffering'

is repressed, especially if it is laced with

sexuality.
In Isabel Pinedo's analysis of the pleasures of horror films, Recreational Terror:
Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing (1997), she considers the videoed
in
is
Henry:
Portrait
Serial
Killer.
In
the
the
murder sequence
of a
scene,
audience
drawn into identifying with the killers through the film revealing that what appearsto
be a live event is actually a viewing of a recording. The sequence includes the
before
her
is
boy
being
and after
neck snapped, a
murdered,
molestation of a woman

blindfolded.
discussed
film
bound,
Pinedo
is
the
gagged and
with
and a man who
four feminist women who all found it sexually exciting. One of the women expressed
their collectively felt unease at their reactions, stating, 'for some reason while they're
basically torturing

this woman before killing

her, I felt

sexually aroused'

(anonymous in Pinedo 1997,103). As Pinedo notes, the response by the four cannot
be generalized to everyone, but I sensethey are voicing a not uncommon reaction to

in
but
in
films
the
that
that
scenes
spectacularize
a
way
narrative,
sadism
stress
other
leaves them deciPherableas BDSM. The accent in Pinedos work seemsto be that
by
(and
but
I
this),
are
surprised
pleasure
sadistic
the women experienced
would
be
incomplete:
there
In
Pinedo's
are
other
may
pleasures
reading
present.
suggest

-66-

WARN. ER EIROS.

CARTOON

Figure 2.6 Advertising the BDSM of Pigs is Pigs

is
to
the
that
the
the masochistic
there
addition
sadism
objectifies
attacked woman,
identifying
her
bluntly,
'object'.
Put
pleasure of
with
as
a range of masochistic
feelings can exist, from 'What would I do if I was herT to 'What on earth would that
feel likeT

But I believe there is also a third way. Havelock Ellis, although

his
hence
dynamics
in
BDSM
to
the
use
merely pain,
of control
mistakenly reducing
he
having
for
'ideal
'algolagnia',
that
term
the
classifies as
a group of people
notes
of
algolagnia':
the thought or the spectacle of pain acts as a sexual stimulant, without the
inflicter
himself
identifying
.
the
or the sufferer of
clearly either with
sub9ect
is
incorrect,
but
Such
this
the pain.
cases are sometimes classed as sadistic;
for they might just as truly be called masochistic. (1983,34)
Without the spectator needing to identify exclusively with either the top or the
bottom, the spectacle of BDSM can create a pleasure based around the control. Such

beyond
the
the
of
objectification
and
sadism
of
a
combination
a situation goes
is
it
identifying
the
the
spectacle
about
en masse.
object:
with
of
pleasure
masochistic
Consequently, the dynamic of control is the attraction as well as the temporary (and
The
dominant
the
the
roles.
submissive
and
appeal
with
alignment
oscillating)
even
loss
deployment
the
the
becomes
of control and
of control,
one of witnessing
then

-67-

is
BDSM
not merely the either/or scenario of enjoying sadism or masochism.

therefore a highly visual meansof engagingwith the controlled body.

The Truths of BDSM


Prior to examining explicit incidents of BDSM in mainstream cinema, it is essential I

correct some of the misapprehensionswidely accepted about the subculture, and


define its attributes. Tim Edwards in Erotics & Politics discusses BDSM,
masculinity and pornography. Referencing work by Jessica Benjamin and Andrea
Dworkin, he states 'The sadist is usually unequivocally "masculine" in connotation
is
the
and
masochist
usually unequivocally "feminine" in connotation' (1994,83).
Edwards rightly notes this is problematic when the positions of master and slave are
not respectively taken up by males and females (either through same-sex BDSM or
by heterosexuals reversing the pairing). However, he concludes that 'one cannot
importance
dominance
in
form'
(1994,
the
the
escape
of
reification of male
some
83). The problem with Edwards's reading is that he accepts the socially imposed
dichotomy,
in
that
the
top
model of male/female, active/passive
and assumes
a

BDSM relationship must be coded as male and the bottom must be coded as female.
for
do
deny
link
between
issue
I
the
the
not
a
of gender,
am not evacuating
in
but
BDSM,
Edwards
fails
dichotomy
imposed
those
suggest
at play
and
culturally

to seethe nuances.
With the preponderance of bottoms in heterosexual BDSM relationships being

femininity,
her
by
by
defined
being
dominatrix
being
the
whether
classic
male, and
describedby Sacher-Masochas a goddesswith 'a graceful and poetic figure' (1989,
leather
figure-hugging
in
in
158) or witnessed
and wearing
popular culture encased

high heels, it is difficult to regard the dominanceas male. More universally, the very
flexibility of who is top and who is bottom in BDSM relationships reveals the
-68-

biological
The
female.
defining
arbitrary nature of
active as male and passive as
determinism promoted by Krafft-Ebing and Freud is challengedat the very moment
they saw it operating at its most extreme. The control articulated in BDSM denies the

logic of the rules, and this exposureis one of BDSM's most destabilizing attributes.
But gender is only part of the equation.
Being the top in a BDSM relationship is not so much about taking on male

but
taking on codes that define control. One of these may take the
characteristics
form of masculinity, for as G.W. Levi Kamel summarizes anthropologist Paul H.
Gebhard's opinion, BDSM 'has its origin in the norms and values of the larger social
being
idiosyncratic
individual
than
environment, rather
an expression of
pathology'
(1983a, 74). But BDSM can extract its scenarios from all these norms and values,
thus control is coded in many forms. For example, a BDSM scenario may include a

man being orderedto crawl around on all fours and eat from a dog bowl, or a woman
dressed as a pony and being made to pull a cart. The relationship is that of owner/pet,
is
defined
by
Comparably,
involving
the
and not
participants' sex or gender.
scenes
a

involving
those
master or mistress and slave are not gendered,nor are
a Nazi guard
baby
its
(in
apparent gender quality). What is
spite of
and prisoner, and a mother and

being defined is a relationship of control, a visualization and experienceof power


BDSM
To
these
states,
achieve
and powerlessness.

raids official

society's

institutions of power and authority for their codes; the prison guard's uniform, the
Nazi officer's boots, and the teacher's cane, are all part of the paraphemalia of
BDSM. By impertinently commandeering these public symbols of control, and
theatrically deploying them as objects of private pleasure, BDSM uncovers the
tallacy of there being anything natural about the order of authority in society. In

Michel
Foucault
functioning
'the
jeopardize
what
called
automatic
of
effect they
(1991.201).
power"

Thus. BDSM reverses the law enforcement of the post-69-

enlightenment period, which attemptedto show that 'punishment does not appearas
the arbitrary effect of a human power' (Foucault 1991,105). Instead,there is a return
to the pre-enlightenment concept of punishment as spectacle. As Anne McClintock
states, BDSM

'perf6rms social power as both contingent and constitutive, as

sanctionedneither by fate nor by God, but by social convention and invention, and
thus open to historical change' (1993,210).
Not only are the hierarchies reversible in BDSM, but also the very structures of
be
power can
revealed. Havelock Ellis may have recognized the role of love in
BDSM, arguing that generally 'The masochist desires to experience pain, but
inflicted in love' (1983,34), and the sadist may even regard the masochist's pleasure

as essential to his own satisfaction' (1983,34), 10but he mistakenly believed the


bottom was passive. As I stressed earlier, BDSM is founded on consent, with prearranged guidelines of limits, with scenes that can be stopped by using safe words
far.
What
is
is
things
too
that 'Many S&Mers claim
when
go
even more striking,
that the masochist, rather than the sadist, is really in control during a sadomasochistic
(Weinberg
Kamel,
1983a,
20).
is
What
this
episode'
and
suggests that BDSM is an
intertwining of power structures. Thus, it validates Michel Foucault's assertion that

individual
(1990;
199
1).
The
strandsof the network are the
power exists as a network
body
is
dynamic
the
the
the network.
the
of
controlled
masochism,whilst
sadismand
My discussion may seem to have moved a long way from BDSM in the movies,

but the true nature of the subculture needsto be revealedto show what is explored
films.
What
in
Hollywood
hidden
is
we can summarizeabout
contemporary
and what
BDSM is as follows:

10Although I accept the overriding importance of money in BDSM relationships organized on a


C
I
Ellis's
to
basis,
true,
caring
and
understanding
of
appears
remain
premise
especially when
commercial
be
dominatrix,
try
'I
to
Menchi,
them
hear
state,
a
sadist
who
understands
professional
a
we
2000).
T64,
Bound
(in
television
the
programme
o
[masochists]'

-70-

BDSM as a social practice has been depicted inaccurately, with many opinions
originating from false assumptions pioneered in psychoanalytic studies.

BDSM scenesare consensualand collaborative.

'The basic dynamic of S&M is the power dichotomy, not pain' (Califia 197%
134).

BDSM is a heightened, frequently aestheticized, performance of control and loss

of control.
BDSM utilizes socially derived symbols and hierarchies of power, only one of
but
key
is
which,
a
one, gender.
As I embark on my study of films that directly address BDSM, it is these points we

keep
fore.
to
to
the
need

BDSM in Contemporary

Cinema

As case studies, I will examine 8mm and Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan,

"
Supermasochist, but first I wish to outline the increasedincidence of BDSM in
films of the past thirty years or so, and the defining qualities of its use in
films
As
that attempted to negate
the
with
earlier
contemporary mainstream cinema.

BDSM by stressing sadism, the control is visualized via a heightened manner


involving setting and/or paraphernalia:objects and locations stand in for pain and
BDSM
is
key
difference
The
of
via sexual
a more explicit referencing
control.

situations and notions of consent.


Changes to mainstream cinema censorship alone do not explain the increased
her
book
In
it
has
Hard
for
Core,
BDSM,
throughout
society.
occurred
visibility of

Linda Williams finds that the proliferation of the bondageand discipline subgenre

" Hereafter, I shalI refer to Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochistin the
Sick.
form
abbreviated

-71 -

from the 1980s onwards is due to the rise in video pornography that allows the
targeting of smaller markets (1999,301). Simultaneously, the 'unitary categories of

identity begin to cross and blur' (1999,304) as supposedminority interests,such as


BDSM, penetrate the mainstream pornography market, bringing it to the attention of
more people.
Beyond pornography, the music industry raised interest in BDSM. Working with

Nico, The Velvet Underground (a euphemism for the BDSM subculture) released
'Venus in Furs' in 1967, The Stooges sang 'I Wanna Be Your Dog' in 1969, and the
New York Dolls had a song called 'Red Patent Leather' (circa 1975). The punk
brought
1970s
BDSM further into public view, with The Vibrators
the
movement of
Up
'Whips
Furs'
(1976),
X-Ray
Spex
Bondage,
'Oh
releasing
and
and
singing
Yours' (1977), and perhaps more significantly in respect of its mainstreaming,

influenced fashion, with shopssuch as Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's


Sex raiding BDSM couture. By the 1990s, the major fashion houses had recognized
the importance of the imagery, as had advertising executives, with Peugeot 306 cars,
beer and even sofas getting the BDSM touch. Such occurrences augmented the
by
its
direct
With
BDSM
BDSM,
the
cinema.
address
and mitigated
awareness of

its
full
including
to
there
potential,
would seemno need refute
made more explicit,
desire
in
to
the
traditional
renounce
and
and
pain,
subjection
unequivocal pleasure
hierarchiesby surrenderingcontrol to another,and yet the denials remained.Thus, its
have
largely
to
and
control
pain
concepts of power, pleasure,
subcultural challenges

lain undisclosedin mainstreamcinema.


The inaugural annual New York S/M Film Festival took place in October 2000,

film
festival
BDSM
flourishing
the
but before the
circuit, a
of
as a mature memberof
late
from
1960s
formed
to
the
films,
the
the
end
of
millennium,
reaching
selection of
films
I
that
this
towards
to
distinguishable
recognize
moment.
appealing
path
niche
a
-72-

Klaw's
Irving
1964)
Kenneth
(USA,
Scorpio
Rising
Anger's
groups, such as
and
bondagefilms of Betty Pagein the 1950s,predatethis, as do the 'adults only' films
collectively

known as the 'Kinkies'. 12 The popularity

films
these
of

is not

insignificant, but undergroundcinema and films on the grindhousecinema circuit are


by no means the mainstream. However, their existenceforms part of the increased
incidence of BDSM in cinema, which eventually infiltrated Hollywood.

In addition to the more marginal cinemas of the USA, other non-Hollywood


films increased the perceptibility

of BDSM. Fostered by a cultural heritage,

especially the literature of de Sade and Sacher-Masoch, European films began


incorporating explicit themes of sadism and masochism into their narratives. In

directors
particular,
such as Jean Rollin and Jesus Franco fused soft-core
13
pornography with themes of captivation and punishment. Exceeding previous

limits, thesearejust two of the better-known directors of low budget films, and many
in
BDSM.
In tandem though, films with an
to
assisted
more
giving greater exposure
in
equivalent predilection appeared the mainstream market place.
The Surrealists, and especially Luis Bufluel, were influenced by de Sade, as is
his
in
One
Hundred
Twenty
Days
Sodom
in
LAge
d'or
referencing
of
and
of
evident
(France, 1930). In the period I am investigating, the same book inspired Pier Paolo
Pasolini's SalOJo le centoventi giornate di SodomalSalo, or The 120 Days of Sodom
(Italy/France, 1975). Updating the story to the fascist Salo Republic in Italy, scenes

forcing
libertines
torturing
naked youths to eat shit are circumscribed
and
raping,
of
by themes of complicity of victims and the contemporary concern of the loss of

innocence. Other films traded on the author's name as much as his work, including

12The Kinkies are deemedto begin with White Slaves of Chinatown (JosephP. Mawra, USA, 1964).
13It is of note that the serial Perils of Nyoka is said to be one of Rollin's favourite films johill and
directed
The Blood ofFu Manchu (USA/U K/Spain/West Germany,
Franco
1995,173),
Tombs
and
films
in
increased
1960s,
five
Fu
Manchu
fourth
the
the sexualized suffering
made
and
1968), the
of
directors
in the series.
by
beyond
the
far
that
previous
employed
quotient

-73-

De Sade (Cy Endfield, West Germany/USA, 1969) and Die Jungfi-au und die
PeitschelEugenie

The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (Jesus Franco


...

Spain/West Germany/UK, 1970). Comparably,Sacher-Masochprovided the basisfor


severalversions of Venusin Furs including both Massimo Dallamano's updatedsoftcore pom version Le malizie di venere (Italy/West Gerrnany/UK, 1969) and Jesus
Franco's liberal reworking of the text as Paroxismus (Italy/West Germany/UK,

1969). Other examples of literary adaptationsinclude Le Journal d'une femme de


chambrelDiary of a Chambermaid (France/Italy, 1964) which was Luis Bufluel's
take on Octave Mirbeau's novel, and Histoire d'OlThe Story of 0 (France/West
Gennany, 1975), which was Just Jaeckin's version of Pauline Reage's novel. By no
means isolated examples, these films ground their display of BDSM in a literary
heritage and the concomitant European sensibility that deems sexualized depictions

of the controlled body as admissible as entertainment.Hollywood was bereft of such


lineage and relied on other legitimating reasons for BDSM.
The institutional setting was crucial for many films in the USA. Women in

films
for
domination
(WIP)
prison
provided suitable reasons
and subjection, plus a
liberal dose of sex. Bev Zalcok has outlined a history dating back to the late 1920s
(1998,19-38); however, she observes that by 1971, becauseof the influence of
European directors such as Jesus Franco, a notable shift in depictions had taken place

had
become
'the
the
and
crude
stereotypes
classic scenarios
stock
characters
whereby
The
(1998,27).
lesbian)
"scenes...
(often
representationsof softsado-masochistic
(Jack
Hill,
Doll
House
USA,
films
The
Big
1971)
in
fantasies
as
such
and
core male

Terminal Island'Knucklemen (StephanieRothman, USA, 1973) are unremarkablein


feminist
has
been
interpreted
Rothman's
filmmaker
as
a
work
the period, although
but
from
1976),
be
(Cook
is
should
within
what
noted the
challenging conventions
legitimate
(and
to
genre)
a combination of sex and
use of a particular situation
-74-

violence, whilst avoiding the depiction of dominated males (with the implication of
masochism).
Companions to these WIP films are those set in religious institutions, which

addednotions of penanceand excess.The subgenreof nunsploitation included Storia


di una monaca di clausuralDiary

Paolella,
Cloistered
Nun
(Domenico
of a

France/Italy/West Germany, 1973) with its lashing of a naked nun and the degrading
punishment of crawling across a stone floor to kiss the Mother Superior's feet;

Interno di un convento/Behind Convent Walls (Walerian Borowczyk, Italy, 1977)


juxtaposes
devotional
images of
which
14
masturbation; and Suor omicidilKiller

Christ's

suffering with

explicit

Nun (Giulio Berruti, Italy, 1978) depicting

Anita Ekberg sexually humiliating her lesbian lover. Evidence of these same themes
be
located
in
can
mainstream cinema too. La Religieuse (Jacques Rivette, France,
1966) follows the enforced confinement of Suzanne (Anna Karina) in a nunnery
is
humiliation
by the Mother Superior and the
to
where she subjected whippings and
15
sadistic collusions of other sisters. More excessively, Ken Russell's The Devils
(UK, 1971) transforms religious punishment into BDSM pleasure, and exorcism into
16
torture via a violently large enema. Both the nunsploitation and WIP films are not
literary
BDSM
but
in
the
the theme
their
as
adaptations,
expression of
as categorical

is much more apparentand incessantthan that found in the films prior to the 1960s.
They mark a radical shift as BDSM took on a much higher profile in the cinema:

isolated
BDSM
films
than
theseare complete subgenresstructuredaround
rather
and
scenes.
The cycle of Nazi based quasi-porn films of the 1970s is probably the most
Pasolini's
Salo',
Tinto
BDSM.
Along
Brass's
there
of
with
was
notorious exploration
" The film also fits
15The film also fits
16The film also fits
Whiting
John
and a

into the literature category being basedon a Stendhal novel.


into the literature category being basedon a Denis Diderot novel.
being
based
literature
Aldous
Huxley's
The Devils of Loudun
the
category
on
into
play.

-75 -

Salon Kitty (France/Italy/West Germany, 1976) with its scenesof sexual flogging,
cross-dressingand a human being treated as a dog, and Elsa Frdulein Ssyrdulein
Devil (Patrice Rohm, Italy/France, 1977) depicting foot worship and sexualized
beatings. Both are examples of storylines revolving around decadent Nazi Germany
and SS personnel staffing brothels to spy on officials. Other Nazi films with BDSM
elements placed greater emphasis on the Holocaust. These death camp films, such as

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (Don Edmonds,USA, 1974) and its subsequentsequels,and


Sergio Garrone's Lager SS adis kastrat kommandanturISS Experiment Camp (Italy,

1976) were closer to the WIP films, often featuring contrived breakout endings. But
like the Nazi brothel films, relied on humiliation, fetishistic uniforms and contrived
Nazi philosophies, plus elements of SS torture. ' 7 However, the film

largely

inspirational for the burgeoning of the subgenre was a mainstream film: Liliana
Cavani's 1973 film 11portiere di notte/The Night Porter.
As a spectacle, The Night Porter matches many of the cycle of Nazis films in its
depiction of BDSM, but as Kaja Silverman has argued in her thoughtful article

'Masochism and Subjectivity', the film breakswith tradition and dramatizes'the lure
both for the male and female subjects of negation, passivity and loss' (1980,8).
Detailing the controlling relationship between an SS officer Max (Dirk Bogart) and
his favourite concentration camp inmate Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), the film
his
victimization
explores

her
within
of

the camp (including

voyeuristically

her),
firing
her
and their recommencement of
a gun at
subjection and
photographing
their relationship after the war.
In one prison scene, a topless Lucia, dressed in Nazi cap, military trousers and
long black leather gloves performs a cabaret routine in front of the penetrating gaze
17The cycle can be traced back to Love Camp I (Lee Frost, USA, 1968), which in a less graphic
format had displayed many of the subgenre's characteristics,and the successof which in Canadahad
SS.
SheWolf
for
Ilsa,
funding
the
of
the
provided

-76-

Salome,
direct
to
Nazi
in
Max,
The
reference
of
a
officers.
performance ends with
has
Silverman
her.
presenting Lucia with the head of a prisoner who had tormented
described how Lucia's performance marks her shift from involuntary to voluntary
exhibitionism: rather than pursuedby Max's cameralens, she performs to the room.
The transition is uncomfortable for the spectator,for 'Lucia's danceimplies too open
by
female
desire
an acknowledgement of the masochistic
of the
subject, and
identifies
her
By
(1980,5).
the male
the
extension
male subject who
with
pain'
from
is
being
disassociated
Silverman
Max,
the
through
to
subject,
who,
referring
become
has
he
had
held
his
is
Lucia,
gaze
previously
via
and
camera, as excludedas
fascinated by her pain rather than his own sadism. As Silverman rightly articulates,
the recognition of pleasure in pain and being victimized is 'culturally inadmissible'
(1980,6) because it contests the superiority of the active masculine position.
The rekindling of Max and Lucia's relationship after the war perpetuates the
threat by reinforcing the potential gratification of the masochistic position, but
furthers it too. Pursued by ex-Nazis who have vowed to kill anyone who can link
them to their past war crimes, Max becomes a virtual prisoner (replicating Lucia's
bottom
become
his
liaison
Lucia,
In
top
the
and
quite
roles of
with
earlier position).
fluid, with Max begging to take on the masochist's role by pleading, 'Tell me what to

do.' The culturally inadmissible has abruptly become even more taboo, as a man is
is
his
Lucia's
is
What
dominated.
be
to
masochism not
and
more,
now requesting
films),
loyalty
death
in
(as
imprisonment
by
to
the
the
or
camp
away
explained

fatherland (as in the Nazi brothel films), but is seenas a particular relationship that is
love.
Thus,
kind
although sharing with exploitation
of
eventually recognized as a
films a common urge to show BDSM, The Night Porter also explores its appeal.

have
been
directors
investigate
female
Cavani,
to
Alongside
prepared
other
da
destino
Travolti
insolito
Wertmiffler
Lina
un
nell'a--,:urro mare
made
masochism.
-77-

dyAgostolSwept AwaylSwept Away

by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of


...

August (Italy, 1974), a story of role reversals where an upper-class woman becomes a

island.
become
her
Communist
willing slave to
maroonedon an
attendantwhen they
Contrasting sexual and political oppression, Wertratiller constructs a flexible power
dynamic whereby 'the victimizer always appears filled with guilt and unconsciously
longs to be punished' (Kaplan 1978,99-100). Thus, Raffaella (Mariangela Melato),

from
once removed
cultural pressures,adapts and enjoys the dominated position.
That it has recently been remade as Swept Away (Guy Ritchie, UK/USA/Italy, 2002),

Madonna
Raffaella's
with
playing
role (renamedAmber), and few major changesto
the story, testifies to the greater visibility of BDSM themes in mainstream cinema.
Although the sexual violence is less pronounced in the remake, one crucial difference
does suggest a greater acceptance of masochistic desires. Both films end with the
his
that
man wanting proof
partner will remain submissive back on the mainland. In
Wertmtiller's version,, Raffaella is seemingly corrupted by capitalism, and willingly

her
dominant
her
husband
her
lover.
In
to
accepts a return
status with
and rejects
film,
is
deceived
by
her
husband,
in
intercepts
Ritchie's
Amber
contrast,
who
and
by
her
lover
Giuseppe
(Adriano
Giannini).
A
tearful
the
returns
engagement ring sent
Amber is left believing Giuseppe has spurned her and so is denied the controlled role

desires.
she
That Ritchie's Swept Away was a critical and commercial failure (it was not

$598,645
UK
worldwide) might suggest
cinema release and only grossed
given a
but
for
loving
BDSM
is
film
relationships,
another
ready
mainstream cinema still not
Steven
Shainberg's
The
disproves
in
2002
this.
of
success
comparative
released
Secretary, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and took

$4,046,737 at the US box office. validates my view. An elegant, dark comedy,


Secretary does not treat BDSM as a joke, yet recognizes the humour inherent in

-78-

observing how other people get their sexual kicks, and reflects a loving relationship
without evangelizing what many still regard as a sinister sexuality.
The film opens with a strident Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) masterfully
managing to make coffee, staple papers and fulfil all her secretarial duties whilst

submissively bound in a bondage spreader bar that keeps her anus stretched
horizontally, and necessitates she steps sideways through doorways (figure 2.7).
Confidently and elegantly swaying, Lee is a submissive at work and at play. The film

cuts to six months earlier, when Lee is releasedfrom a mental institution where she
has been receiving treatment for self-harm, a condition apparently brought on by a
drunken father and a clinging mother. Re-entering the dysfunctional environment,
Lee returns to the comfort of the controlled ritual of self-mutilation. She also gets a
job as a secretary to a lawyer, E. Edward Grey (James Spader), who is controlling,
bullies
her
He
Lee,
obsessive and emotionally remote.
criticizes
appearance, and
in
her
line
However,
the
typing.
the
remonstrates over
slightest error
on seeing
neat
later
her
leg
deliberately
Band-Aids
Lee
herself,
he
of
on
and
witnessing
cutting
he
is
her.
Ordering
her
that
to
attracted
recognizes a shared shyness and
not to cut
herself ever again, he begins to instil confidence in Lee. When she makes a typing
his
desk
he
her
bend
he
instructs
day,
to
the
over
and
vigorously spanks
error
next
her. That it is pleasure and not harassment is made apparent by her soft moans, and a

brief but tender interlacing of their fingers to end the scene.Lee begins to crave
1)

deliberately
leaves
training,
(irey s reprimands and corrective
so
she
so much
-1

her
is
but
her
in
throw
to
away
collection
simultaneously empowered
work,
mistakes
implements.
of cutting

That their relationship does not run smoothly takes the film into the bracket of
love story rather than a typically damning expose of BDSM, yet it still explores the

Lee
desires.
As
Mr
Grey,
he
backs
to
to
their
attempts
get
closer
off
peculiarities of
-79-

Figure 2.7 Lee Holloway mastering masochism in Secretary

fires
her,
intertwined
and
unsure of a romance
with power and subservience, and
fearftil of revealing his vulnerability. But the relationship is finally consummated and
brought to fruition after Grey compassionately bathes and tends Lee's scarred
body. 18What distinguishes the film is that we are invited to enjoy a happy ending
that retains BDSM as a core component of their relationship (few love stories
lingering
image
honeymoon
the
conclude with
of a
centred around outdoor sex
is
bound
to a tree).
where one partner
Of course, Secretary can be faulted for relying on the supposition that
less
In
is
version
of
self-harm.
self-destructive
other
as
a
masochism only excusable
link
between
by
The
is
tainted
the
self-mutilation
same
pathology.
pleasure
words,
BDSM
and

is made in La PianistelThe Piano

Austria/France/Gen-nany, 2001), whilst

Teacher (Michael

Haneke,

The General's Daughter (Simon West,

USA/Germany, 1999) psychologizes a woman's need for bondage as a nihilistic relargely


Yet
Secretary
being
her
gang-raped.
overcomes the negativity
enactment of
blossoms
Lee
in
insist
true BDSM
with confidence whereby,
the others
upon.
is I will discuss the treatment of scars in more detail in the next chapter in relatIon to Crash.

-80-

fashion, the submissive takes control, and the film remains focused on the gentle,
caring aspectof the couple's bond. However, like all depictions of the woman as the
it
desires,
film
it
depicts
is
masochist, the
and
patriarchal
open to the criticism that
has been so charged (Pierce 2003). Romance (Catherine Breillat, France, 1999),
which the female director has argued shows a woman freeing herself of masochism,
whilst experiencing various masochistic pleasures(in Felperin and Williams 1999,
13), has been similarly accused (Vincendeau, 1999,52). But why would female
directors also go along with this? Possibly, it is so engrained in patriarchal society

that it cannot be contested,but I do not think so.


What must not be lost is that fantasy is not reality: to think is not to do, and to
is
be.
With the emphasis in both Romance and Secretary on the female
to
play
not
protagonist's viewpoint (they are the only fully developed characters and speak

directly to the audience via voiceovers), it would not be surprising to think of the
respective roles and themes as corresponding to the women's subjective experiences.
In Secretary, the office becomes a fantasy space, an idyll of natural textures of wood

flowers
that contrast with the plastic outside world. In such an environment of
and
innocence, Lee undertakes her adventure. The fantastical is also suggested by her

for
by
his
desk
days
back
(whilst
friends
Mr
Grey
several
remaining at
winning
and
television reporters visit). Similarly, Romance is criticized for Maria (Caroline
Ducey) longing to meet Jack the Ripper and for her BDSM partner being a Don Juan
figure (Vincendeau 1999,52).

BDSM scenarios rely on such notions already in

is
them
their
to
the
charge,
so
recycling
give
wider culture
natural.
circulation within

Weinberg has stated 'It is impossible to attempt to develop an understandingof the


fantasy
the
theatricality'
without
examining
place
of
and
subculture
sadomasochistic
(1978,105). Comparably, in defenceof lesbian BDSMers, who have been criticized
has
D.
Hopkins
Patrick
feminism,
tor undermining
argued that ISM sexual activity
-81 -

does not replicate patriarchal sexual activitY. it simulates it.. Simulation implies
..
that SM selectively replays surfacepatriarchal behavioursonto a different contextual
field' (1994,123). 19The aesthetics of suffering and domination are as fundamental

as the instruments of restraint and 'coercion' in the construction of the controlled


body. We should also note that masochist fantasies are common to both men and
women, as shown in surveys by Nancy Friday and Shere Hite (Segal 1993,13).
Further, the 'male fantasy' may not be exclusively tied up in the sadistic control of
desire
the
to punish them. As I argued in relation to Henry: Portrait of a
women and

Serial Killer, there is cross-genderidentification with the subjectedfemale, as well as


the overarchingpleasureof a scenefounded on control.
I would however agree that there is a disparity between the depictions of male
female
and
masochism in films, and the disjuncture is central to my research.The
time is apparently still not right for a masochistic male secretary and female boss. A
factor
films
depict
BDSM,
USA
these
that
unifying
of nearly all
explicitly
whether
films,
fit
less
into
European
that
these categories
art
and others
easily
exploitation or
Velvet
(David
Lynch,
USA,
1986),
Tie
Me
Up!
Tie
Me
Down!
Blue
such as
and Po

Urodov i LiudeilOfFreaks and Men (Aleksei Balabanov,Russia, 1998), is a fixation


films
Even
in
bottom
BDSM
BDSM
that
the
exchanges.
posit
of
role
with women

interactions
heterosexual
tend to reserve
sexual
alongside other variations of
folks'
for
different
films,
for
These
'different
the
strokes
such as
masochism
woman.
92'Weeks,and we could also include Belle de jour (a good example of the use of
fantasy too) and Romance, do little to explore the dynamics of BDSM. But all these
films, especially the English language films, with their use of familiar film stars and
into
helped
bring
BDSM
the mainstream.
more
the resulting notoriety, certainly
19Hopkins's use of the term simulation does not exclude real pain however, but he makes clear that
differently,
due
felt
(1994,137,
be
to
the
reconceptualized
as
a
sensation
context
quite
the pain may
n.4).

-82-

A handful of films have broached the topic of male masochism though, most
1976)
France,
Schroeder,
leather-clad
dominatrix. Maitresse (Barbet
visually via the
tells of a professional dominatrix, her 'torture chamber' equippedapartment,and her
difficult relationship with her boyfriend. The subject matter was evidently troubling,
UK
in
film
banned
in
USA,
X
the
the
with
and originally
given an certificate the
(before being passedwith

CUtS).

20

Outside mainland Europe,the relationship between

the professional dominatrix and her clients has beenscrutinizedin documentaryfilms


Hookers,
1993)
Hustlers,
Pimps
Johns
(Beeban
USAJTJK,
Kidron,
their
such as
and

filmed
Fetishes
(Nick
Broomfield,
USA/UK,
interviews
1996).
Combining
and
with
BDSM scenes, they foreground the control element, role-playing, and mundaneness
But
in
BDSM.
the
the
of
activities, plus
predominance of male clients
commercial
is
films,
the
to
these
they are equally concerned with
although
male masochist central

the dominatrix, a persona that has become over-determinedin cinema of the last
twenty years.

From the bondage sex of Lulu (Melanie Griffith) in Something Wild (Jonathan
Demme, USA, 1986) via PVC catsuit costumed Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns
(Tim Burton, USA, 1992) to Charlie's Angels (McG, USA/Germany, 2000), where
her
leather-clad
Lui)
(Lucy
Alex
efficiency expert swishing
cane
plays a
at one point

become
has
feature
dominatrix
dominates
the
the
a
common
on-looking men,
as she
dominant
films,
BDSM-influenced
between
In
these
women
of mainstream cinema.
have included Kathleen Turner crushing Michael Douglas betweenher thighs in The
War of'the Roses (Danny DeVito, USA, 1989), a fate Harrison Ford also suffers at
in
Blade
Runner
legs)
Hannah
Daryl
(Ridley
hands
(or
the
the
of
more accurately,

Scott, USA, 1982), whilst PamelaAnderson, in her revealing leatherwearbodice, is a

20It was only in May 2003 that the film was finally releaseduncut on video in the UK (including the
being
being
and
a
penis
spanked
pinned).
woman
a
of
shots
removed

-83-

had
Lui
Lucy
1996),
USA,
Hogan,
and
bounty hunter of men in Barb Wire (David
in
dominatrix
full-time
by
Angels
Charlie's
in
for
her
a
playing
role
geared up
is
he
her
as
nipples
1999),
twists
USA,
client's
Payback(Brian Helgeland,
where she
in
interest
broader
powerful,
held at gunpoint. Coinciding with the
cultural
Body
in
of
dominatrix.
(who
Madonna
the
role
played
sexualized women, notably
21

Evidence (Uli Edel, USA, 1992)) and the Spice Girls ,

the fetishistically clothed

to
is
BDSM
dominant female ubiquitously connotes risque women.
virtually reduced
be
it
implying
as
taken
off
itself
(plus
and
on
the
can
the clothing
occasional prop),
the
dominatrix
the
of
the
masochism
obliterates
pleased, whilst the spectacle of

black
behind
the
In
dominated
effect, male subserviencevanishes
male.
willingly
leather bodice and the swishing whip. The numerous appearancesof the dominatrix
in films discloses contemporary cinema's fascination with control and BDSM, but
the portrayal reveals a desire to not consider wholly BDSM as a social practice.
Furthen-nore, BDSM has become shorthand for the underbelly of society. Thus,
Griffin Dunne's tour through New York in After Hours (Martin Scorsese, USA,
1985) brings him into contact with bondage; in Blue Velvet, Kyle MacLachlan's
disturbing
is
BDSM
the
relationship amidst
underworld
character confronted with a
Bad
Lieutenant
the
town;
the
small
and
corrupt
world
of
ostensibly
respectable
of an
(Abel Ferrara, USA, 1992) is an arnalgam of the excessive and vile, which
bondage
An
BDSM
is
displayed
sex.
even
greater
castigation
of
apparently includes
in Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, USA, 1994). The BDSM scenario of a man fully

head
leather
bodysuit
kept
(including
in
box
in a
mask)
and
a
chained
in
encased
a
bondage equipped basement,is made depraved by the man being 'owned' by two
fiction
characterizations.
racist. sadistic.rapist murderers- undoubtedlypulp
21We mi-ht also note that the Spice Girls' video 'Say You'll Be There' (Vaughan Arnell, USA, 1996)
famous
films:
Faster
Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Russ
cinema's
most
pseudo-dominatrix
one
of
recreated
Meyer, USA, 1965).

-84-

further
so
heightened
be
The danger quotient of the dominatrix and BDSM can
Ken
in
Donohoe.
that they signify a deviance linked to the horrific. Amanda
Russell's tongue-in-cheekThe Lair of the White Worm (UK, 1988), standsastride a
before
boots,
leather
black
PVC
thigh
boy scout in her heavily codified
catsuit and
frequently
has
Cronenberg
David
his
Darker
him
by
biting
still,
paralysing
penis.
both
BDSM
iconography
twisted
the
to
and more
the
evoke
mined
and practices of

1988),
(Canada,
Ringers
Dead
In
disturbed
sexually
aspectsof a character'snature.
twin gynaecologists, Elliot and Beverly (both played by Jeremy Irons) share thoughts
Bujold),
(Genevieve
Claire
lovers,
but
drift
comes
and
apart as one patient/lover,
between them. Throughout the film, the hospital setting and props, including foot
stirrups, probes and highly theatrical red surgical gowns, accentuate the sense of
designed
for
'operating on
BDSM
Similarly,
Beverly's
tools
recreated
scenes.
use of
but
in
foregrounds
BDSM
the
mutant women',
previously exhibited
an art gallery,
attribute of fetishized implements of pain. In one scene, tied up with rubber tubing
and medical clamps, Claire takes part in BDSM sex with one of the brothers. The
doubles
scene
an earlier gynaecological. examination by one of the twins that had
Claire's
difference:
revealed
monstrous
a triple uterus. The duality of the two scenes
transgresses: dissolving the boundary between the sexualized body and the
medicalized

body

(something repeated in

Romance via

a gynaecological

The
doctor,
by
the
the weight of medical
examination).
power of
embellished
has
been
metamorphosed into sexual control.
authority,

Even more blatant is Cronenberg's Videodrome, which features a satellite


in
broadcasting
a show that has 'no plot.... [There's just] torture,
channel rejoicing

[and]
After
mutilation'.
murder
watching the channel with sensation-seeking Nicky
Brand, Max Renn puts a needlethrough her ear as a prelude to sex; later in the film,
bums
her
third
a pseudo
nipple onto
she
chest with a cigarette, and enjoys being
-85-

whipped, in a dislocated fashion, by being a responsiveimage on a television screen.


Abstracting BDSM into visceral horror, a blurring of hallucinations and reality
leaves Max with a gaping vaginal wound in his chest, which both he and another
character fist to insert videotapes. Videodromedoes not expound the pleasuresof
BDSM, but it emphatically captures a rapacious allure and elicits new sexual

sensations.
The horror film has found other uses for BDSM. The Hellraiser films 22all use
visual tropes associated with BDSM to summon conceptions of pain. Heavily
exploiting paraphernalia and iconography now associated with the aesthetics of

BDSM, the signs have been converted back into their original function, that of
torturous agony, but with the twist of sexual potency.
When not made horrific, BDSM can be undermined by being made humorous.
British

films,

Personal
Services
(Terry Jones, UK,
conspicuously

1987) and

Staggered (Martin Clunes, UK, 1994) reduce BDSM to little more than a ridiculous
indignity. Another, Preaching to the Perverted (Stuart Urban, UK, 1997), although
insert
into
depictions
to
truth
the
evidently crusading
some
of BDSM, exposing the
it
disassociating
from
laws
BDSM
to
torture by
clampdown on
and
archaic
used
ludicrously
the
stressing consent, remains an anodyne comedy, safely securing
in
heterosexual
Britain
Tanya
Cheex,
is
dominatrix,
couple.
a
vanilla
punned
not

difficult
deal
BDSM.
in
In
to
the
subject
with
apparently
of
comedy
use
of
alone its
the USA, Mel Brooks has probably been the wittiest, with a character in High
Anxiety (USA, 1977) declaring, 'Too much bondage; not enough discipline. ' I must
importance
had
insight
has
Brooks
the
the
to
perceptively recognize
of
also admit,
humorous
it
has
The
in
in
BDSM,
The
to
great
effect.
used
scene
and
role-play
22The Hellraiser films are: Hellraiser (1987), Hellbound.- Hellraiser H (Tony Randel, UK, 1988),
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (Anthony Hickox, USA, 1992). Hellraiser: Bloodline (Kevin Yagher,
USA, 1996), Hellraiser: Inferno (Scott Denickson, USA, 2000) and Heltraiser VI: Hellseeker (Rick
Bota, USA, 2002).

-86-

Bialystock
Max
Producers (USA, 1968) where the desperatetheatrical producer
backer,
his
(Zero Mostel) plays 'chauffeur' to the 'Contessa' of
elderly potential
is
having played the 'tomcat' to her 'pussycat' and the 'stableboy' to her -milkmaid',
to
is
Dyer
Richard
therefore
dynamics
delight,
full
correct
the
control.
of
a
yet
of
life
licensed
is
of
to
is
'Comedy
that
aspects
that
explore
note
an area of expression

that are difficult, contradictory and distressing' (1985,92).


female
have
the
blatant
BDSM
And yet, cinematic depictions of
concentrated on
is
When
is
body
the
it
being
that
male
controlled.
a male
masochist, with
rarely
largely
obfuscate the masochism.
submissive, narrative ploys or other characters

Thus, it is labelled as deviant, horrific or comedic, when not banished behind the
be
feared
in
dominatrix.
is
image
What
that
the
to
masochism
male
overpowering
of
it
inexpressible?
lie
in
BDSM,
The
the
and can
social
reality
of
makes so
answer may
be scrutinized via a comparison of 8mm and a film that actively engages with male
Sick.
masochism,

'You don't exactly get turned off either. '


Joel Schumacher's 8mm is highly representative of contemporary Hollywood's
depiction of BDSM, conforming to many of the categories I outlined earlier such as
displaying
BDSM paraphernalia to
the
representing
underbelly of society, and
have
film
I
the
to contrast with Sick because of how it casts
suggest risk.
chosen
BDSM in entirely negative terms. Its central theme is far from consensual, for it is
23
films.
it
BDSM
issues
to
sntiff
yet activates
raise
of consent, masochism and the

body.
controlled
Snuff films are defined as films that depict the actual killing of a human being, and in common
films
IN,
to
explicitly made to show that killing, especially films that appearto
parlance, usual refer
begin as a standardporn film, but then the person having sex (usually a woman) is suddenly killed.
The phrasecame to common knowledge when Ed Sanderssuggestedthe Charles Manson cult had
filmed murders. To date, no snuff film has ever been found. SeeDavid Kerekes and David Slater's
book KillitW For Culture (1995) for a full investigation of snuff films.

-87-

by
is
the
widow
Welles
Tom
Cage
Nicolas
asked
who
plays surveillance expert
late
her
in
found
film
8mm
investigate
industrialist
to
a reel of
of a wealthy
be
to
a
husband'sprivate safe. The film contains a silent recording of what appears
leather
BDSM
zipped
a
have
and
chains
and
to
girl about
sex with a man wearing
leathermask; insteadof coitus, he stabsher to death.Welles entersthe underworld of
family
his
behind
leaving
identity,
the
comfortable
victim's
pornography in search of

life and discoveringa dark side to his character.


Life
Hardcore
HardcorelThe
Schrader's
dissimilar
Paul
is
The storyline
to
not
(USA, 1979), where a Calvinist father resorts to lies and violence to find his daughter
24
in the porn industry. Ostensibly, in both films, the female victim (alive or dead) is
the quest, yet it is the male body (and masculinity) that is investigated. A moment in
both films that exemplifies this is the concentration on the male protagonists as they
but
film
footage
the
the
the
of
respective victims: only snatches of
are seen,
watch
the men's reactions are shown in detail, in particular, those of Tom Welles (figure
-1.8). Both films stress the apparently inevitable slide from porn to BDSM, child
in
Indeed,
8mm,
BDSM
pornography and snuff movies.

becomes virtually

interchangeable with snuff, and the treatment of the two is a prime concern.
Throughout 8mm, assertions are made that define snuff in terms of BDSM. The
8mm film is traced back to 'producer/director/weirdo' Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare),
'the Jim Jarmusch of S&M', who makes 'Bondage, fetish, gothic hardcore'. Yet
Max
California
(Joaquin Phoenix) stresses Dino Velvet
although sex shop worker
illegal,
but
borderline',
it
Dino
'Nothing
transpires
that
makes
made the snuff film
too.

It is also implied that BDSM is a bridge into predatory bestiality and

24Snim even reworks a line from Hardcore into its tagline 'Some doors
should never be opened'. In
Hardcore. a detective tells the father that there are 'doors that shouldn't be opened'.
25The natne Dino Velvet has now been taken up as a pseudonym by someone
advertising in the small
ads in Bizarre magazine,offering both adult films, and the closest you can get to a snuff movie,
films
No.
57,2002,1
(see
mondo
-22).

-88-

in
female
Figure 2.8 Investigating male suffering via the pretext of
suffering
8mm

paedophilia.
The montage opening of a Dino Velvet film includes BDSM images of women
in fetishwear dominating a man in a collar and lead, and flagellating his bottom.
Intercut are close-up images and sounds of howling cats and dogs. The equating of
animals and animal behaviour is extended by Dino's studio being located in New
York's meat market, the establishing of which, complete with images of lifeless
flesh
draped
hooks,
immediately
has
Tom
carcasses and
on
comes
after
viewed a
film depicting a gagged, spread-eagledwoman hanging from a bar.
The affiliation of BDSM with pornography involving the coercion of children
exists via association too. As Tom is shown around a dimly lit illegal night market,
lie is offered the following:

'Extreme bondage. Rape films. Sick shit. ' Besides

condensing a potentially consensual scene with a vile act of duress, the moment
had
Tom
handled
comes immediately after
material clearly labelled 'Kids',

the

touching of which necessitatesrubbing his hand clean afterwards. Music in the film
link
to paedophilia, with the Aphex Twin song 'Come to Daddy'
also makes an overt
(1997) used by the killer Machine (Chns Bauer) to lure Tom around his house.
Wearine his leather mask. Machine collapses child abuse and consensual BDSM into

-89-

predatory sexual sadism. Of course, it can be argued that the mask performs a
function of disguise. However, it is notable that like Hardcore (where the victim in
the snuff movie wears a leatherhood and is chainedin a BDSM scenario),the type of
mask emergesfrom the BDSM subculture;in contrast,in two recent,non-Hollywood
films that focus on snuff, Mute Witness (Anthony Waller, UK/Gennany/Russia,

1995) and TesislThesis(Alejandro Amendbar,Spain, 1996),the killer has a balaclava


instead. One reviewer has asked: 'How shocking is a leather mask these daysT
(Fusion3600, n. d.). The answer from Welles, as he stares at them in a sex shop, and
from Hollywood, seems resolutely to be 'extremely shocking'. The leather facial
is
BDSM
attire of
evidently shorthand for evil.
Numerous other references also link BDSM to deviancy and snuff. A BDSM
nightclub conveniently offers the spectator the titillation of bondagewear but also
allows Welles to wander around disapprovingly. Whilst inside, a man in a manacled
latex codpiece (figure 2.9) supplies what transpire to be fake snuff movies; he is
therefore shown to be untrustworthy, both by his products and by upping the price
buy
Welles
Elsewhere
in
film,
bondage
ball
is
tries
to
them.
the
when
a
gag
film
in
knives,
it
is
the
snuff
alongside
strategically placed
and
a tattoo, a sign of the

is
frequently
interlaced
body
trend
that
world of
modification, a subcultural
with
26
BDSM, that identifies the killer.
Furthermore, the progression from BDSM to snuff and other non-consensual
film,
film.
Tom
declares,
in
Before
is
the
the
seeing
snuff
even
actions made explicit

'This is probably an S&M film of some sort. Simulated rape, simulated violence.'
Albeit distinguishing between snuff and BDSM, it is apparentthat Welles (and the
film) is using simulation differently to Patrick D. Hopkins (1994): it is not the
o

Of course, the intellectual and benevolent Max is also covered with tattoos, but he too is part of
BDSM
having
is
depicted
to
of
porn,
sleazy
world
and
snuff,
and
admits
an
undifferentiated
as
what
been changed by it.

-90-

Figure 2.9 Explicitly linking BDSM and snuff in 8mm


is
in
film,
but
In
has
the reality of pleasure
pain
the
the act.
changed
context that
'Look,
Welles,
faked.
Max
be
it
In
to
states
addition,
unfathomable; must therefore
line....
It's
films
bondage
S&M
the
they
all
straddle
you'll see,
and
some of these
harder than hardcore, but mostly legal. ' In an earlier draft of the script Max goes
further: 'How are you supposed to tell if the person tied up with the ball gag in their
line,
into
kiddie
Step
Rape
is
[sic]
that
porn.
or
not?
over
you're
consenting
mouth a
27
films, but there aren't many' (Walker, n.d.). BDSM thus becomes defined by
harmful exploitation, and to all intents and purposes, interchangeable with snuff.
Andrew Kevin Walker's earlier draft may have physically voiced these sentiments
filmed
but
both
in
terms of narrative and visuals, still
the
script,
more vehemently,
leaves us in no doubt as to what is meant. As Dustin Putman (1999) worryingly
is
film
have
I
deals
the
'8mm
that
smartest
probably
seen
with the sick
concludes,
Official
S&M
snuff.
culture therefore constructs snuff as the logical
and
nature of
BDSM.
conclusion of

27This earlier script goeseven further, with Max indicating the naturalnessof the progression: 'It's
hardcore
into
More
the mainstream,
and
more
you'll
see
perverse
coming
worse.
get
gorma
only `:,
Itbecausethat's evolution. Desensitization.... Soon, Playbov is gonna be Penthouse,Penthouse'll be
Hustler, Hustler'll be hardcore, and hardcore films'll be medical films. People'll be jerking off to
for
it
There's
laying
to go' (Walker, n.d.). The logic
open
wounds.
nowhere
else
with
around
women
famously,
Linda
Lovelace
is
Most
in
that
the
claimed
not
new.
women
sequence
porn films were
of
being murdered on camera(Kerekes and Slater, 1995,261, n. 19).
11

-91 -

based
deviancy
on
In addition to formulating a singular conceptof violent sexual
8mm
its
BDSM
denying
true
status,
thus
of
permission,
oppression, with no concept
family
loving
it
by
BDSM
relationship.
castigates
establishing as the antithesis of a

from
far
BDSM
love
Where, as we shall see, Sick seeks to show that
are
and
irreconcilable, 8mm, by merging snuff into BDSM, creates a sexually depraved
is
defined
'other'.
that
as
underworld
in
described
has
(1999)
Schumacher
Joel
Mychael Danna's score provides what
Kasbah.
idea
8mm
the
director's
DVD
UK
the
the
of
as
release of
commentary to the
The theme is first used when an 8mm film is projected in a darkened room at the
beginning of the film, but as the scene fades into Welles arriving at a brightly lit
Miami airport, the music changes into more traditional brooding sounds. The two
key components of the movie, Welles and the snuff film, are instantaneously
film,
including
Throughout
the
the
the underground pom
remainder of
opposed.
bazaar scene,the Morocco-influenced music serves to suggestthe deviant 'other'.
The establishing of a distant world conforms to the depiction of snuff in the
Snuff
Findlay
(Michael
movies.
and Roberta Findlay, USA/Argentina, 1976) was
film
be
in
South
America' (in Kerekes and Slater
that
'The
could only
made
sold as
28
1995,11). Similarly, Mute Witness is set in Russia; in Tesis, the violent film the
lecturer looks for is said to be Czech and is located in the pomography section of the
librat-N,;and the fake snuff films in 8mm are believed to be from the Philippines. 29
Even in Hardcore, the snuff film was made in Mexico, a point emphasized by the
film
being
diegetically
by
Mexican music.
accompanied
silent

In 8mm, the distant land of deviance is contrastedwith the home life of Tom
Welles, a man who recently becamea father to a daughterhe calls Cinderella. In his
SOrig,inal I-Nfilmed as Slaughter in 1971. SnqIf featured additional footage tacked on to the end that
implied a Nvomanwas killed on camera.
2qWe should also note that the satellite channel in ["ideodrome is first
said to be from Malaysia.

-91-

dinner,
baby,
fairytale life, he is a new man who tends to the crying
offers to cook
his
Innocence
dark
in
has
in
personified,
the
missionary position.
and who
sex the
in
of
house
the
His
deceit
being
his
too,
countryside
set
one
smoking of cigarettes.
Harrisburg, is physically distanced from the decadenceand depravity of the cities of
Los Angeles and New York that his investigations take him to.
is
film
The
is
The world of porn, snuff and BDSM
temporally separatetoo.
snuff
by
its
format
(reinforced
is
it
of
film.
8mm
Not
noise
accentuated
an old
only
a silent
is
film
If
is
discontinued.
film
technology
but
the
stock
also the specific
projection),
Slater
Kerekes
film
is
imagery.
The
to
and
what
conforms
snuff
primitive, so the
have outlined as the prescribed cinematic representation of snuff, established in such
films as Emanuella Nera in AmericalEmmanuelle in America (Joe D'Amato, Italy,
1976), Last House on Dead End Street (Roger Watkins, USA, 1977) and Hardcore.
Thus, snuff film 'was one room and one camera; was black and white; was silent;
bad
editing; was expensive. Was a commodity' (1995,
was grainy; was colour with
43). The snuff film in 8mm, dovetails neatly into this remit for primitive cinema. But
it
does.
is
is
incongruous
It
Jim
Jarmusch
'the
that
that
it somewhat strange
of S&M',
lacking
in
'an
some
call
artist',
would
produce
who
something so
production values.
The narrative motivation for using an 8mm. film is to establish a more backward
films
Tesis
(a
to
the
contrast
where
world
snuff
are shot on video, and the new
technology of digital zoom allows the tracing of the camera). In a scene that precedes
Dino attempting to film Welles with a movie camera, Max tries to record Welles
heavily
coded as video via the point-of-view
with a camera

shot through the

The
distant
to
time.
world
of
snuff/BDSM
evidently
relates
viewfinder.
a
The weaponry follows a similar pattern, thus the Neanderthal sadist Machine has

his knives (and is mistakenly defined by them as Machete,at one point), Dino has his
sliAtly advancedcrossbow.whilst only those that straddlethe moral line, including
-93-

Tom, opportunist porn merchant Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini) and snuffprocuring lawyer Longdale (Anthony Heald) have guns.

Similarly, when 'Come to Daddy' is played in Machine's house, it is the


Welles
the
lure
to
(the
is
that
then
properties of a record player
moved),
stylus sticks
killer, not a skipping CD track. The antiquated world even reaches as far as the

laborious card index systemthat Tom has to searchthrough to identify the dead girl
He
Mary
Anne
different
(Jenny
Powell).
is
from
In
Welles
can
as
world.
a
contrast,
images
from
film
capture

into a computer, use a mobile printer to produce

Max
image
technology.
may warn
photographs, and utilize expensive
enhancement
that the Internet will usurp the dirty but visible porn bazaar, but for the time being,
technology is clean and advanced. I would therefore suggest the emphasis on the
technologically primitive is used to imply a similarly primitive set of emotions in the
BDSM subculture. Technical superiority goes hand-in-hand with moral superiority
like
lack
8mm,
is
by
its
BDSM
the
that
most
of evolution.
categorized
world of
so
in
Krafft-Ebing
films,
labels
BDSM
Hollywood
to
a manner akin
contemporary
declaring masochism and sadism to be 'among the primitive anomalies of the sexual
life' (1998,54).

That Tom Welles can be linked to, and even crossoverinto the primitive world,
is key to the film: in the crass words of Max, "you dance with the devil, the devil
don't change; devil changes you'. As Tom trawls through countless images and

film,
Max
'Let
the
in
the
to
cautions,
snuff
makers of
me
videos searchof clues as
They
in
that
that,
that
unsee.
things
you
can't
there's
get
tell you,
you're gonna see
film,
is
Max
Having
'
head
there.
snuff
they
seen
a
evidently
never
stay
and
your
defines
it
deviant,
including
film's
as
conglomeration of anything
referring to the
Tom's
fall.
that
is
BDSM
it
Thus,
BDSM.
prompts
eventual
snuff
moral
as much as

his
habits,
indicates
Tom
Max
obsessive
Furthennore. as
acquired
viewing
about
-94-

does not 'exactly get turned off either'. Tom's fixation has becomemore than mere
his
wife,
forgets
home,
to telephone
dogged professionalism. He puts off going

hangs-UP
on
him,
film
abruptly
and even
when shecalls
continueswatching the snuff
his
true
depiction
blatant
(a
her when he discovers something interesting
of where
his
has
it
but
be
interest now lies). He may not
attention.
certainly raised
aroused
is
Max)
family
his
later
a
himself
(and
Tom's disregard for endangering
and

have
it
but
die,
did
just
Mary
Anne
know,,
desire
that
to
what would
not
masochistic
been like.
Pat Gill, in 'Taking it Personally: Male Suffering in 8mm', recognizes the same
'
is
'it
Gill
Tom
Thus,
turns
trait.
not only rage
comments,
vigilante
when
masochistic
but a need to suffer that prompts Welles to murder' (2003,163).

Gill interprets

Welles's behaviour via Freud's concept of moral masochism whereby 'morality


becomes sexualized afresh' and 'the masochist must do something inexpedient, act
destroy
his
in
his
interest
the world of
own
and
possibly
own
existence
against
...
in
is
located
Gill
2003,168).
Welles's
by
in
his
(Freud
Gill
moral masochism
reality'
feelings of guilt: he identifies with the passive female victim and disavows his status
it
him
because
links
Interpreting
to
the
the
the close
perpetrators of
as a man
murder.
bond formed between Welles and Mary Anne's mother, Janet (Amy Morton), a tie
that culminates in his telephoning her to detail her daughter's death, Gill concludes
'Women must feel pain in order for him to feel alive' (2003,182).
Although I am unconvinced of the specifically gendered projection of pain, I

it
is
Welles's
The
to
that
relationship
vital.
concur
man who had declared that the
tIuture was 'survei Ilance' can no longer just look; the need to know and experience is
too great. Tom is compelled to attempt to bndge the gap between the image of Mary
Anne's suffering and her actual experience. He wants to be in the same scenario of

both
a reversal and embracing of the suffering. But
control and utter subjection:
-95-

in
Tom's compulsive desire to know is not the haunting uncertainty explored
is
it
the
1988),
Netherlands/France,
Sluizer,
SpoorlooslThe Vanishing (George
hints
1980)
USA,
that
Friedkin,
fascination and allure depicted in Cruising (William
at the corruption of BDSM sex.

The issueof whether or not the combination of sex and violence is real becomes
key. We observe this when the Philippine tapes are proved to be fabricated because
The
2:
Snuff
Wow.
'That's
dies
Max
the same girl
twice, and
great.
rejoices:
Resurrection. ' If the snuff movie is a fake, it is okay. Although couched in terms of
included
is
film
indicate
BDSM
the
that
throughout
the
also
snuff,
references
would
be
but
BDSM
Therefore,
BDSM
would
actual
in such a view.
simulated
would
okay,
8mm:
has
bearing
The
Sick),
BDSM
(and
to
not.
on
notion of consent, vital
no
have
is
incomprehensible.
be
Thus,
Tom
to
to
a
consent
pain
although
must
seen
desire
know,
his
in
his
be
to
masochistic
willing participation
own pain must
circumvented, whilst bringing the issue of consent to the fore. 8mm employs a novel
means to achieve this.
Posing as a potential commissioner of a BDSM film, Tom meets Dino and
Machine at a film set. However, he walks into a trap. Shackled to a dirty bed in the

disused red warehouse amidst dangling chains and spread-eagledshapes, the


theatrical BDSM stage is set. At first appearing to be in a position akin to Mary
Anne's in the snuff film, it is actually the severely beaten Max, hung on a crucifix,
Dino
be
killed,
fucked
filmed.
After the burning of the 8mm snuff
says
NN-lio
will
and
film, Tom indeed witnesses the bloody slitting of Max's throat, set against the

St.
Sebastian
backdrop
(and
affected
influenced)
of the target and crossbow bolts
(figure 2.10). HoweN'er, Tom manages to escape during a contrived shoot-out, thusq

he
the
cover
of
under
vemyeance, masochistically endangershimself and his beloved
tanifly as lie pursuesthe remaining membersof the snuff ring.
-96-

Figure 2.10 Aestheticized death awaiting Max California in 8mm


Capturing Eddie, his desire to know and feel Mary Anne's fate compels Tom to
take his prisoner to the scene of her death. What follows is not retribution but the
Repeatedly
body,
the
asking
a performance of suffering.
spectacle of
controlled
in
know',
Tom
'
'I
'Why?
to
some respects,
and
want
verbally and,
variations of
death
but
Mary
Anne's
Eddie,
Eddie
physically, recreates
scene with
with
positioned

body.
The
the
as
controlled
narrative's emphasis on Mary Anne serves to disguise
that once again it is the male body, rather than the female, that is explored.
Furthermore, it camouflages the fact that Tom's masochistic desire to know how it
telt has shifted to wanting to show Eddie (and the audience) what it felt like.
Tom has already declared that he will 'never get tired of hurting' Eddie, so rather
than killing him, he re-enacts the spectacle of suffering, using electrical flex to bind
Eddie"s neck to his hands behind his back. At his moment of utter subjection, tied up
in
BDSM
Eddie
a
scene,
as if
recognizes the power of masochism: paradoxically, by
inevitability
his
death,
he
is
the
accepting
of
able to prevent it (albeit temporarily).
Eddie calls Tom a 'faggot' and a 'pussy' (both opposing traditional concepts of
him
fucking
to
'Pull
the
trigger', and removes Tom's control by
masculinity), orders
he
fellates
the barrel of the gun thrust into his
will not cry, and even
proclaiming

tace. The dynamic and spectacle of control is based on BDSM. and although
-97-

in
the
devoid
directly
is
importance
obviously
tackled
the
of consent,
of permission
scene.
Unable to bring himself to kill Eddie, Tom telephonesMary Anne's mother.
Using the excuse of her saying she wanted to know what happenedto her daughter
no matter what (a masochistic drive in itself), he requests, 'Give me your permission

to hurt them [the perpetrators];please.' Janet's statementthat she loved her daughter
is taken by Tom as an authorization to kill Eddie, but it also conforms to a structure
30
has
BDSM.
Using
John
Alan
Lee
McClintock
(1983),
Anne
the
of
work of

described how 'S/M rituals may be called rituals of recognition.... [P]articipants


seek a witness - to trauma, pain, pleasure or power' (1993,224).

Thus, as Lee

is
'Each
Tom
(1983,189).
to
the
argues:
partner served as an audience
seeking
other'
his
his
by
Eddie,
lies
Janet
(confirmed
to
the
a witness
control of
and
reciprocity
with
letter she later sends to him stating, 'I realize you and I are probably the only people
that ever really cared about Mary Anne'). Unable to confront the consent to pain in
BDSM, the film only hints at the combination by displacing the permission onto a
third party. Thus, it corrupts the consensual dynamic of BDSM.
One final point about 8mm can be distinguished from the unmasking of Machine,

discover
in
Sick.
Having
is
and worthy of contrasting with what we shall
established
that involvement with the combination of sex and pain can corrupt, the other
he
is
is
fat
is
Machine,
George
in
8mm
that
as
named,
only
or
a
man who
revelation

31
his
Questioning
Tom
whether
mother.
expected a
needs glassesand resides with
declaring:
George
embarkson a monologue
monster,

30John Alan Lee is in turn using the work of Erving GoffTnanin Frame Analysis: An Essay on the
Organization of Experience ( 1975). Goffinan proposesthat participants in events use social frames to
frame'
Lee
'theatrical
the
to BDSM with
to
applies
contexts.
specific
within
provide meaning actions
its notions of scripting and control.
I
-, His features and background are remarkably akin to the cinematic profile of a serial killer; indeed
his chubby face is not dissimilar to the serial killer played by Victor Buono in TheStrangler (Burt
Topper, USA, 19633).If recognized as such, the depiction brings yet more disgraceto BDSM.
I

-98-

I wasn't beaten.I wasn't molested.Mommy didn't abuseme. Daddy never


do
I
do,
I
them
Things
There's
I
I'm
no mystery.
only what am....
rapedme.
becauseI like them. BecauseI want to.
BDSM
and
domesticity
that
images
to
As we shall see, where Sick uses
stress
of
life
home
Tom's
juxtaposes
with
8mm
-normal' are not mutually exclusive,
not only
BDSMers
issues
but
involving
BDSM,
that
are amongst
a paranoid cry
also
a world
film),
is
(remember,
and
BDSM
That
George
there
snuff
one
only
enjoys
us.
is
he
from
therefore, unlike Eddie, gets pleasure
pain rather than profit, means
in
irreconcilable
Pleasure
deviant
them
the
and pain remain
all.
of
most
classified as
8mm.

'You always hurt the one you love. '


Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Feature at
the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Kirby Dick's 1997 documentary Sick has
been controversial. In Australia, the Minister Responsible for Censorship banned the
film, before discovering she had breached her own legislative guidelines (Spencer,
1999), and in the UK, when the film was shown on television as part of a late-night
it
by
season of contentious programmes, was cut
eleven minutes, yet still attracted
five viewer complaints (none were upheld). 32 The video release also suffered
by
the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) totalling 3
compulsory cuts
Of
detailed
42
the
seconds.
particular
concern
was
niinutes
performance of Bob
hammering a nail through his penis, but the BBFC also required cuts to BDSM
insertion
ball
in
his rectum) on the
the
(including
and
asphyxiation
of a metal
scenes
be
highly
dangerous
if
that
they
*would
likely
grounds
copied
and
which
to
are
4
interest
in
encourage imitation in viewers with an existing
sado-masochistic activity'

In the LISA, Bob Flanaganhad already featured on SenatorJesseHelm's hit list of artists receiving
nioney from the National Endowment of the Arts.

-99-

ideas
both
and
disquiet
(BBFC, 2001). Evidently, the
of
to
stimulation,
relates
BDSM pleasures.It is incredible that a film that concentrateson male masochism,
it
founded
on
both as a sexual act and as performance art, generatesan anxiety
looking so appealing people may wish to copy it. What a marked contrast to the

film
The
therefore
behind
hide
films
fearfully
that
sadism.
masochism
mainstream
body,
the
issues
its
and
type
of controlled
raises
about representationof a particular
important relationship between performance and BDSM.
The film states (as did most reviews of Flanagan's performances), that Bob
Flanagan was an artist, masochist, and one of the longest living survivors of cystic
fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that effectively causes you to drown in your own
dead
be
he
Alas,
that
the
the
that
should
statement,
mucus.
epigram
originally ended
by now, but instead he nails his dick to a board, is no longer true; he died at the age
documentary.
incident
forms
denouement
43,
Kirby
Dick's
that
the
of
of
an
However, both death and the punished penis form parallel targets in the film because
the two trajectories of CF and BDSM dominated Bob Flanagan's life. The dual
pathologies', one physical, the other mental, intersect and form the unitary term of
33

the title: Sick.

The irony of the term becomes apparent through the film showing that Bob
illness
in
by
in
to
the
to
the pejoratively categorized
physical
partaking
refuses give
homeopathically
Bob
it,
learned
fight
'I've
to
puts
sexual pursuit: as
sickness with

Juno
Vale
That
he
be
1993,3).
defined
(in
degenerate,
both
and
sickness'
should
as a
bodily and morally, is further undermined by the film. We see him in the position of

CF
he
held
from
1973 to 1995.
told
summer
at
a
camp, a role we are
counsellor
Entertaining a bunch of school kids and guardians around a campfire by singing
Ivy
(because
she was on IV). in-between drawing
songs about a Nvomancalled
Bob had previously used the wordplay for his show Bob FlanaganS Sick (199 1).
-100-

Similarly,
benevolent
face
heavily on his oxygen supply, he presentsthe
clown.
of a
her
his meetings with Sara, a teenage girl who suffers from CF, via the granting of

disarmingly
be
him
to
Foundation,
Wish
Make
through
the
shows
a
requestplaced
during
their
have
desire
second
Her
to
piercing
nipple
a
charming and slightly shy.
is
hand,
her
holding
by
not
her
Bob
throughout
comforts
which
meeting,
is
it
for
BDSM,
that
a
Flanagan's
interpretation
Bob
Her
predilection
of
coincidental.
disease,
by
denied
body
form
the
seems
the
of control over
way of obtaining a
his
BDSM
Bob
facet
that
this
actions attractive
and
made
was something
correct, and
her
In
S&M').
it
'wasn't
her
her
the
(in
own
to
mother's protestations that
spite of
designed
is
like
to achieve a
Sara's
those
of many piercees,
piercing,
smaller way,
form of mastery over pain (of which I will say more in Chapter 3). Thus, Bob is a
figure,
inspirational
yet also a
mentor
counsellor, a normal sing-a-long guy, and
BDSM
and extreme performance artist.
connoisseur of
The film constantly returns to his ordinariness and respectability: he was a poster
boy for a cystic fibrosis foundation, his parents discuss his motivations around the
kitchen table, and his brother says the young Bob was a 'moral cop'. As a point of
dinner,
family
Thanksgiving
Bob's
the
contrast, at a
of
partner, collaborator and
34
dominatrix, Sheree Rose, is revealed to be screamingly dysfunctional. Later in the
film too, Sheree is depicted as the nasty sadist trying to manipulate Bob into having
forty-two spanks to commemorate his birthday, whilst he protests he is too ill. But it

demonize
Sheree
bit
bitch,
but
the
too
to
sadist.
may
easy
seema
of a
is
she never
truly fulfils our expectationsof a sadist. Robert Ebert is correct to record that 'In
Rose lie [Bob] found a woman who was a true dominatrix, not just a kinky actress
from
bizarre
(1997).
Apart
costumes'
a scene when she is in a surgical apron
Nvith
34The familial sceneresemblesthose in Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, USA, 1994), a comparable
biographical documentary of another sexual outcast, the counter-culture cartoonist famous for Fritz
the Cat and Mr Natural, Robert Crumb.
-

101

Bob,
like
her.
basque,
Sheree
Rose's
and another where she wears a
attire makes
normality personified. Everything is so normal that:
In fact, Sick, for all its perversity, is in many respects exactly the kind of
love
Americans,
in
it
is,
that
things,
movie
a
particular, adore:
among other
story, a comedy, a tale of courage, a true-life example of triumph (however
35
temporary) over adversity, and even a disease-of-the-week flick
(D'Angelo 1997)

Much the samecould be said of Secretary.But it is not quite that simple, becausefor
most people, BDSM is irreconcilable with normality (as we saw with the *shock'
Machine).
Through being sick, yet benign, Bob destabilizes perceptions
revelation of
BDSM,
film
helps
Stoller
him
Robert
the
of
and
explain why meeting with
prompted
36
his
to substantially rethink
views of 'perversion' (Kauffman 1998a, 35).
Kirby Dick (and Bob and Sheree, who collaborated on editing Sick) seem selfdepictions
film's
break
from
the
traditional
of the
cinematic
consciously aware of
ftom
body
BDSM.
The
Leather
their
controlled
and
puns of
collaborative video
Yff-

hume

)37
(1983

is
frequently
how
humour
to
employed (as we saw with The
allude

Producers and Preaching to the Perverted) to cope with BDSM. Another sequence
in Sick shows Sheree pestering Bob about what she will be left in his will.
Confronting both humour and the expectation that BDSM is about torture, Sheree
in
before
is
I
the
to
'Am
camera
pans
any
wayT
reveal
she
coercing you
asks,

depiction
Bob's
And
the
testicles.
tied
conventional
most
around
of
pulling a cord
BDSM comes after the visit of Sara. As Bob acts out what he calls Sheree's fantasy,
35In particular, the hospital deathbedscene,the aftermath of gatheredfriends, and the closing cine
film of childhood are very reminiscent of Philadelphia (JonathanDemme, USA, 1993), another film
tackling diseaseand sexuality.
Seealso Robert Stoller's comment about one of the subjectshe interviewed in which he states'the
because
he
had
had
fiercest
the
experiences
with
pain
the
worst
childhood
was
practices,
one with
born with a life-threatening illness, cystic fibrosis' (1991,26). The comment appearsto be an oblique
referenceto Flanagan.
3 If indicated in the film, I have provided dates for the individual works of art shown in Sick.
37
However, becausethese include a range of material such as videos, perforinance pieces, and
installations that are not perrnanentand cannot be accessedby the public, they are not listed separately
listing
Works
Art',
have
included
I
Instead,
the
'Exhibitions
and
of
thesis.
the
under
at the end of
details of Bob Flanagan's major exhibitions to indicate where some of these pieces have been shown.
I.

102-

he swigs from a bottle and pops pills. Becoming lecherous and seemingly out Of
if
You
Let's
make
he
can
we
see
control,
shouts, 'Fucking make a wish....
The
'
her.
Supermasochisttoo.... Sheree, God damn it, put the nipple clips on
he
Velvet,
Blue
in
Hopper)
(Dennis
Booth
as
Frank
moment resembles psychopathic

Dorothy
before
daddy
baby
between
inhaleshis gasand switches
the masochistic
and
(Isabella Rossellini). In other words, Bob becomesthe familiar image of BDSM: the
sadist.
by
break
installations
tradition
Bob's
Mostly though,
with
perfonnances and
intertwining
in
his
later
particular,
ones
concentrating on male masochism, with
BDSM and CF. The most pronounced example shown in Sick is CFISM (n.d.), which
is a collection

of children's

building
alphabet

blocks with

the alternating

images
block
interspersed
CF
SM
the
showing
occasional
with
and
abbreviations of
it
interdependence,
leather
hoods.
Because
their
of
of padlocks, stethoscopes and
being
for
displays
is
Bob
the
that
structured as only
apposite
masochism
may appear
diseases,
has
basis
in
To
Bob's
'normal'
people.
and
no
rethink
masking extreme
tenns, how can you fight sickness with sickness if you do not have a malady in the
first place? But as I have outlined, in spite of Bob's differing lifestyle, his
his
both
What
Bob
Flanagan's performances
character.
ordinariness always pervades
is
defamiliarization
Sick
the
tone
of
achieve
a
of medicine. The aesthetics of
and
become
BDSM
Thus,
the
aesthetics of
performance.
medical suffering
alongside the
from
his
(catheter)
is
the
that
there
pain
play
ever-present
on
chest
is
porta-cath
scars
tor the administering of antibiotics. Compatibly. his X-Ray With Nipple Rings (n. d.)
has his diseased lungs as the dark background to isolate the two large nipple rings he

fused
in
BDSM
Disease
and
are
a medicalizedvision.
sports.
Flanagan's T7sible Man (1992) has a similar function: a child's anatomical toy

takeson the abject but also sensuousacts of producing shit, mucus and ejaculate.The
103-

1995),
1994;
(1992-3;
Hours
Visiting
alongside
features
in
installation
the
art object
BDSM
hospital
bed
with
room
waiting
a
paediatrician's
of
nails,
a
gumey as a
his
by
into
dragged
is
the
he
from
bed
air
in
hospital
Bob
which
magazines,and
a
been
have
disease
hospitals
feet. The ritualistic implements and proceduresof
and
Bob
Ringers.
in
Dead
described
desire,
just
I
into
BDSM
reveals
as
co-opted
and
for
in
them
BDSM borrows from the structures of power
wider society and uses
pleasure through conversion.
What the film stressesis the role of staging and performance. Pain is not Bob's
is
disease
breathe
the
to
the
not what excites
suffocating
under
struggle
pleasure:
him, but being asphyxiated by Shereeis. He states in the film:
I don't get turned on by slamming my hand in a car door, and I don't get
turned on by being treated badly, but, with the right relationship and the
right, um, right context, I am turned on.
As Robert Stoller notes in respect of pain, 'The distinctions, though fine, are precise'
(1991,16), and the precision permits the exquisite pain. Paul H. Gebhard extends this
is
'Accidental
pain
view, observing,
not perceived as pleasurable or sexual. The
average sadomasochistic session is usually scripted.... Often the phenomenon
reminds one of a planned ritual or theatrical production' (1983,37). Thus, BDSM
in
its
Bob's
performances
awarenessof timing, display of paraphernalia
accords with

(for
the masochistand the sadistare the audienceto each
and addressof an audience
in
The
is
BDSM
theatricality
pursuits).
other
about showing and delineating,
therefore 'The pain of S&M is defined differently because it is a method by which

dominant
their
and submissive roles. It is a means to an end'
partners maintain
(Kaniel 1983b, 167). In Visiting Hours, Bob re-brands the pain of the intrusive

both
treatments
as
performed spectacleand personalcontrol. Like Patrick D.
medical
Hopkins"s Justification of BDSM as simulation not replication, it involves the same

104-

physical acts but the context and meaningsare changed.


In 'What are Big Boys Made Off

s
Willemen
Paul
Hunt
(1993), Leon
uses

in
Neale's
Steve
work
commentsin 'Looking at the Male' (1981) in conjunction with
'Masculinity as Spectacle:Reflections on Men and Mainstream Cinema' (1983) to
four
distinguishes
hero
Hunt
the
probe
spectacle of the male
of the epic.
in
Sick,
define
Hollywood
Remarkably,
the
characteristicsthat
version of the genre.
first
being
independent,
into
film,
fits
three
the
spite of
an
perfectly
non-fiction

categories,and with a slight twist, matchesthe fourth too.


Firstly, in the epic there is 'A heroic, central male character, after whom the film

is named' (1993,66). Blatantly, Bob Flanagan,who, as he statesin the film, hasbeen


'both plagued and empowered' by CF, fits the bill.
Secondly, Hunt notes that, 'The hero is somehow "transfigured" and becomes
into
has
been
film
Bob
(1993,66).
As
the
title
than
a
exalted
a man'
suggests,
more
Supermasochist, a kind of Superman of the BDSM world, complete with oxygen
from
his
(figure
2.11)
scrotum
mask, surgical gown cape, and a weight suspended
Hunt elaborates that there may also be 'religious overtones' (1993,66),

and

Flanagan, besides having a crown of thorns tattooed around his pudendurn,


frequently references Christianity in his work. In Sick, we see his 1994 work The
Ascension (part of
Contemporary

Art,

Visiting
New

Hours)

York.

taking place in the New

The performance involves

Museum of

Flanagan being

hoisted
into
by
being
his
feet
his
from
the
through
to
'resurrected'
air
stagedsickbed
hang as a living canvas. In between these moments, the bed acts as a confessional
disease
Flanagan
for
their
they
the
of
experiences
with
share
gallery visitors as
site
(Kauffi-nan 1998b,33), and a personalconfessionalsite when Bob is interviewed. For
Bob's
the
though.
all
confessions of guilt,
actions
absolve
explicit
some reason
by
from
his
he
the
stating
religious correlation
staged
completes
especially as
105-

of
---

q-4w

"qw

'SUPERMASOCHIST
Figure 2.11 Discreetly censored version of Bob Flanagan as Supermasochist on
the cover of Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist by Juno and Vale (1993)
38
first,
Christ
famous,
sickbed, 'Certainly
is the very
or the most
masochist.'
The correlation of religion, especially Catholicism, is hardly surprising, for as
Anne McClintock indicates, 'S/M is the most liturgical of fon-ns, sharing with
Christianity a theatrical iconography of punishment and expiation: washing rituals,
bondage, flagellation, body-piercing and symbolic torture' (1993,222). But this is
fundamentally
BDSM
held beliefs: where Christ's suffering was
where
unsettles
does
for
Flanagan
redemptive,
it
perforinative and sexual pleasure. In addition to
breaking preconceptions of pain always being unpleasurable, BDSM transgressesthe
humankind.
the
of
suffering,
and
privileges
personal over
soicninity
Tile third trait Hunt identifies is 'The display of the male body" (1993,66); Sick
is centred on Bob's body. Using Willemen's notion of the 'unquiet pleasure' (1981,
Bob's interest in the 'saintliness of suffering' (Flanagan in Juno and Vale 1993,13) is evident in his
he
does
too,
that A think I related my suffering and illness to the
stating
as
comments
published
Jesuson the cross - the idea that suffering in some way was kind of holy' (Flanagan in
of
-suffering
133).
Juno and Vale 199-3
),

106-

Undoubtedly..
homosexual
display
links
16), Hunt
to repressed
voyeurism.
the
Flanagan's body is open to all manner of sexualizedlooking, whether specifically
BDSM related, homosexual,heterosexualor bisexual, but his punishment certainlY
justification
gives a

to
be
it
(should
for the male gaze
needed), which equates

is
interest
Also
Willemen's belief that the homosexual voyeurism is repressed.
of
Hunt's isolating of three specific generic set pieces, the chariot race, crucifixion and
body:
involve
the
of
the
epitome
male
endangering
gladiatorial combat, all of which
Flanagan's display.
is
for
Sick
fourth,
to
The
replicate,
and ostensibly the most problematic criteria
in
love
The
heterosexual
(1993,67).
between
delivery
'love
the
affair
men'
of
stories
39
Sick is heterosexual: between Bob and his long-term partner Sheree. However,, if
heterosexual
love
definition
that
to
taboo
the
unsettles
mean a
we reconsider
hypotheses,
BDSM
in
keeping
Hunt
Willemen's
then
tone
a
and
with
polarities, a
dominating
between
(a
a man and a
woman
role conventionally
relationship
is
between
heterosexual
if
'love
to
stories
men',
classified as masculine), comparable
not an exact match.
By replicating in so many ways Hunt's defining qualities of the epic, it is to be
Sick
display
the
that
also activates similar questions about
of the male body.
expected
Willemen statesof the films of Anthony Mann:
The viewcr's experience is predicated on the pleasure of seeing the male
'exist' (that is, walk. move, ride, fight) in or through cityscapes, landscapes
history.
And
on the unquiet pleasure of seeing the male
or. more abstractly,
brutality.
(1981,16)
through
violent
mutilated ... and restored

It may seem ironic and insensitive, but a film about a man dying of CF is
tundamentally about seeing him living (at least for the majority of the film), and so,
is
important
Flanagan
Bob
Sick.
Equally
imperative
'exist'
an
pleasure
in
watching,
I

first
19
Sheree
Bob
met in 1980. and Bob died on 4 January 1996.
.
and

107-

though, is his mutilation (via performed BDSM), and the restoration of his physical
wellbeing by 'violent brutality' (using BDSM to fight CF).
Hunt proceeds by identifying a certain type of male star whose presence and

body prompts admiration and desire. Where Hunt presentsCharlton Heston in El Cid
(Anthony Mann, USA/Spain, 1961) as displaying 'the innate splendour of honest

muscle and strong-jawedvirtue' (David Thomson in Hunt 1993,68), Flanaganoffers


up a puny body full of scars, frequently hidden behind an oxygen mask and tubing,
and constantly coughing. Flanagan even draws attention to his failure to match up to
is
[it]
ideal,
body,
have
'I
for
know,
to
a cinematic
stressing
my
apologize
my, you

kinda thin,

I'm
I
lift
and
should
workout
or
something.
more
and
weights
...

'But
by
Schwarzenegger.
he
Arnold
'
However,
certainly no
continues
challenging
his
from
do
he
large
hanging
Arnold
thisT
at which point
reveals a
weight
can
testicles (figure 2.12). Ridiculing the former Mr Universe by labelling him 'Mr
Ten-ninator-Man'. he defies concepts of masculinity via the very site on the body that
is supposed to define being a man. At once satirizing machismo, Flanagan
in
his
he
'Why:
'
it
the
that
poem
asserts
words of
via endurance, so
reconfirms
, HE' S GOT MORE BALLS THAN I DO' (1985,65).

40

The scene comes just after

Flanagan has nailed his scrotum to some wood, and later he is representedas
if
his
body
inside
his
testicles
as permanentlyremoved.
and penis sewn up
castrated,
The image discredits the supposed symbolic castration fear of the ideal ego. Rather

is
(Neale
1983,
being
'something
ideal
the
to
adequate'
the
subject never
than
which
7), the ideal cannot compete with the masochistic subject. However, such a
is
for
justice,
Bob
do
Sick
does
the
playing
with
not
very
psychoanalytic reading

in
body,
defining
the
genderand sexuality such a way.
notion of

40The phrase was said to Bob Flanaganafter he volunteered to be caned and spankedat a BDSM
1993,431).
Vale
in
Juno
(Flanagan
and
party

-108-

Figure 2.12 Bob Flanagan offering an alternative version of masculinity in Sick:


The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist
Leon Hunt examines Neale's point that 'Where women are investigated, men are
Hunt
1983,16).
known'
(Neale
implicitly
least,
is
Masculinity,
tested.
as an ideal, at
it
(1993,65).
testing
the
that
epics investigate masculinity whilst
proposes

This

like
d'&re,
Hunt's
Flanagan's
be
to
view of the epic,
and
raison
exactly
seems
debunks the notion that masculinity is 'implicitly known'. Yet, differences remain.
In respect of tile male body in films, Neale finds 'our look is not direct, it is
heavily mediated by the looks of the characters involved' (1983,14). However, Sick
does not employ such structures. It is true that we see Bob perfonning before diegetic
frame,
but
do
these
are nearly always out of
and certainly
audiences.
not form a
be
for
documentary
that
reaction
shots
would
more
usual
a
pattern of reverse
about
Further.
filmed
the
performances,
whether
stage
entertainer.
acts,
or
an
pieces such
frontal
Aulol).
(1994).
are
and include close-ups that address the viewer. Rather
as
vY
than either repressing the erotic component of the male body, or deflecting it via a
form
Sick
for
looks.
inspection.
In
the
offers
male
close
of
series
accordance with
Laura Mulvey's defining description of how thefiemale body is displayed (and so is
trcited differently to the rnale's). Flanagan's body. 'stylized and fragmented by
-

109-

look'
direct
film
is
the
the
spectator's
the
the
of
recipient
and
close-ups.
content of
(19759 14). The sole sanctioning feature of the display is the act of mutilating the
flaunting
is
not
body.
But
film,
BDSM
pleasure
this
of
the
a
male
make clear.
as
and
is
be
the
Thus,
hiding
it,
sexualized
to
than
out
marked
pain.
rather
what appears
body.
BDSM
However,
Sick,
Bob
Flanagan's
pursuits and performances,
male
via
femininity.
female,
boundaries
between
masculinity and
erasesmany of the
male and
In The 5caffold (199 1), his body is fragmented into separatefetishized components.
Close-ups of his two hands, two feet, head, chest and genitals are screened on seven
televisions arranged in an X shape to reproduce the human body (figure 2.13). Each
What
body
involved
in
BDSM
that
the
one
act.
screen shows
part of
a masochistic
would expect to define his sex (if not his gender), his penis, is demoted to only onehis
being.
is
What
is
the
seventh of
sexual
effectively
more, in some shots
penis
being
removed,
sewn up into Bob's body. The fragmented form, as a site of BDSM,
lie
defining
in
body.
the
the
of
reveals
oneself via one organ
Flanagan throws not only sexuality, but also gender roles into turmoil. Besides
Bob
is
sirnulating castration,
anally penetratedby Sheree,he submits to her demands,
and enjoys rather than shuns certain types of pain, not in a noble way (as in the self5partacus
(Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1960), where Spartacus' comrades all
sacrifice of,
declare 'I am Spartacus' in an attempt to be crucified instead of their leader), but in a
lustful empowering manner. If masculinity is defined as resisting pain, then Bob
his
but
to search out the pain, and to experience it as gratifying,
pro\cs
nmchismo,
being
to
exquisite pain. runs contrar-N,
a man. Similarly, the scenes of Sheree
dominating him. such as in Autqp,i, and Leather From Home, reverse the patriarchal
fernale.
BDSM is frequently championed for this
order of acti,%-cniale passive
very
for,
as already mentioned, its performance of power reveals all hierarchies
attribute.
in
be
to
Nvidersociety
of power
perfomied constructs, and not intrinsically correct.
-

110-

Figure 2.13 Bob Flanagan's The Scaffold reveals the multiplicity of BDSM
Supermasochist
Flanagan,
Life
Death
Bob
in
Sick:
The
of
sexuality
and
But is a woman beating a man truly transgressive?
BDSM sex may point to an altemative, but if safely contained in a fantasy space,
dominatrix
and a
especially a commercially organized one involving a professional

is
isolated.
It
little
the
to
remains
more
male client,
challenge structures of oppression
than another male pleasure within a male dominated world: the man retains both
financial clout and, like all masochists, as Bob Flanagan admits, 'full control', for he
dominate
him
Juno
Vale
(in
1993,32).
In other words,
to
the
top
the
and
right
gives
is
like
Baklitinian
BDSM
the
the carnival, acting as a 'temporary
sense.
in
both
hierarchical
suspensiori.
ideal and real, of
rank' (Bakhtin 1968,10). And after
nionients of excess and authority overturned, the status quo is resumed. If this is all
that is achieved. then it would be right to deny Sick any claim to transgression, but I
believc that it. like BDSM. does more. BDSM need not be transgressive to be
depiction.
but
it
if threatens to transgress, it might explain
pleasurable and worthy of
Hollywood's reluctance to depict male masochism.
In 'Is Transgression Transgressive?% Elizabeth Wilson argues that 'the term
but perhaps most strongly
transoression
in
a
sexual
context
mplies
II
not
onlY
shock
t,

Flanagan
forbidden
Wilson's
(1993,111).
If
contention,
pleasures'
we accept
how
idea
have
have
of
to
certainly transgresses.The point then becomesthat 'we
an
things could be different, otherwise transgressionends in mere posturing' (Wilson
1993,116). Flanagan offers the idea, but he also offers the life. He prefers being a
full-time slave to being an artist; he may perfonn the masochistrole in public, but he
BDSM
have
lives
it
in
His
desire
be
by
Sheree
to
to
also
private.
not
was
controlled

hers.
her.
The
her
his
sex with
contract with
gratification and prioritizes
renounces
Of course, the film, partly as a result of its visual properties, partly a product of
because
basically
is
'SM
conventional storytelling, and partly
a silly thing to watch'

(Flanagan in Juno and Vale 1993,97), is not concernedwith the mundaneacts of


has
Bob
But
the
stated
as
control, and concentrates on
performed spectacles.

elsewhere,
do
being
had
lot
typical
to
submissive
a
with attitude - with me
a
scene
more
boring!
doing
house,
Sheree's
the
errands - really
running
and
work around
Most of the SM stuff we did was just me doing a lot of work for her - that
it!
(In
Juno
Vale
1993,58)
SM
the
part of
and
was
real
Leather ftom Home, albeit with puns about punishment, points to the domestic
reality.
The most commented on performance in the film is where Bob hammers a nail
through his penis to the jocular soundtrack of 'The Hammer of Love'. Shown in
diegetic
hope
audience to mediate our
of a
extreme close-up, visually negating any
looks, we are forced to accept our position of spectatorship. The visceral image gets

has
it
Interpreted
in
a
physical
presence.
under our skin and sticks our minds: almost
(Kauffman
1998a,
37),
debunking
'the
the
authority'
phallus's
and
prestige
penis's
as
Exposing
be
than
the
manhood?
your
own
attacking
manly
phallus
more
what could
limit
for
is
blood
identity
flesh
the
the
is
be
than
of
scene,
not
to
gender
and
no more
flaccid
fully
the
to
Having
the
through,
show
nail
penis
protruding
rotated
conftised.
112-

the metal spike is removed. Cutting to a lower angle, the penis spurts blood in a
sanguineousversion of the 'money shot' of porn films. Only a layer of glass shields
the camera, and acts as a reassuringprotective barrier for the spectator's gaze. The
its
loses
fuses
female
the menstrual
scene
with the ejaculating male as the phallus
integrity.
This slippage between male and female replicates Bob's own
masculine
description earlier in the film of his first experience of nailing his penis. Reading

from his joumal, he recalls how the blood had made the room look like a murder
Tony
he
like
had
just
'methodically
that
scene,and
afterwards
cleanedeverything up
Perkins' in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The significance, besides BDSM again
borrowing from popular culture, is that Bob has swung from victim to perpetrator.
The shift is made even more apparent in the remainder of the journal entry (not read
in the film), where Bob continues by stating 'my blood swirling down the sink like
Janet Leigh's' (in Juno and Vale 1993,54). What Flanagan points towards is what
Anne McClintock

discovered in her study of BDSM magazines: 'Identity shifts

libidinously' (1993,226). As Bob performs, he is sadist and masochist, active and


imposed
dichotomy,
fulfilling
both
the
and offering the combination
sides of
passive,
hypocrisy
fonnation
dissolves
He
the
the
of gender and
of our
as spectacle.

fluids.
body
towards
our gendered
relationship
Fundamentally,

Bob's

is
transgression
embracing the power of
greatest

threat
the
the
male
passivity
and
of
presenting
encompasses
which
submission,

fluidity of gender boundaries. Through choosing pain and domination, and


don't
he
'People
think
the
his
takes
of
masochist
control.
own subjection,
performing
hammering
film,
but
his
in
Bob
'
the
being
performanceof
a
a strong person, states
as
The
BDSM
how
(both
they
threat
his
into
are.
major
of
wrong
penis pictorializes
nail
in terms of the sadist and the masochist) is its reconstitution of control as fun.
is
into
demeaned
is
theatrical
Domination
play. submission shrivelled into contented
113
-

With
no
into
humbled
is
humiliation
need.
satisfying
and
rejection of responsibility,
loses
Control
all
lost.
is
in
fact
resistance, and
embracement,the power of oppression
bloody
penis
is
It
the
for
that
dramatic
tool
noticeable
pleasure.
value except as a
forms the first closure of Sick. As it ends. the screen fades to black and opens on the
dismantling of Bob's Visiting Hours show. There are no more performance
f
that
is
ollows
sequencesin the film; Bob's bloody climax the pinnacle of control. all
is the build up to the ultimate loss of control: death. More painful than the mutilated
Kauffman's
it'
dying
don't
Bob's
'I
assessment
understand confirm
penis,
gasps of
in
last
is
body
he
the
mystique
shows 'Death, not sex.
of Bob's
of work:
finds
Bob
death
in
38).
But
(1998a.
the
credits run, even
as
contemporary culture'
After
foresight
into
his
his
(via
to
take
singing a
control.
own mortality)
space
his
he
be
Dead',
tongue out, complete with
'Fun
to
pokes
composition entitled
losing
idea
the
the
control.
whole
of
masochist
piercing, at
In spite of all that I have outlined above. the quality that most emphatically
discriminates Sick's depiction of BDSM from a mainstream contemporary film is
how the controlled body fits into the relationship between Sheree and Bob. Robert
F+crt (1997) argues that in Sheree. in addition to finding a dominatrix, Bob 'also
tound a lite partner". Sheree and Bob's relationship is a loving, long-lasting and
It
it
is
not
part
of
some
one.
is
sleazy
underbelly
of
society,
committed
not a
for
it
is
doing
things
the
money.
and
not a nsque one night stand; it is a
prostitUte
tomi ot matrimony. the only difference being the contract is not signed in the vestry
but is carvcd on Bob's body in the shape of Sheree's first initial (figure 2.14). The
Bob
&
Shcrce's
Contract
(1982) and contains the usual
ceremoily was videoed as
the solemn vows of love, honouring and
of
photographN
components
and
NN-cdcling
C4
latter.
illustrates
Sick
the
their absolute devotion to each other.
obeving. especially
dtinno
Sheree
Bob
nionicnts
of
anguish
even
such
as
saying
to
she
needs
to
submit
*1
=I
114-

Figure 2.14 Bob and Sheree's contract being signed by Sheree on Bob's body in
Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist
her when he is in too much pain to do so, and when she is later forced to proclaim, 'I
don't even think he is a masochist anymore.' Sick codes the control of BDSM in
terms of love. One performance in particular, Autopsy, addressesthe issue in detail.
The scene opens with Bob displayed naked like a cadaver on a hospital gurney;
the dark and dingy garage setting, including shelves of paint pots and cables, is
familiarly homeiy, but also seemsto reference countless cinematic murder scenes,a
by
Sheree appearing in a white surgical apron that later becomes
sense reinforced
blood.
first
Her
face;
I actually fell in love
'Look
that
words are,
splattered with
at
first
him.
face
I
' The impassive Bob has his head stroked and
the
time
that
saw
with
Ills chest caressedas the scenecloaks itself in the tone of a lover's poignant farewell.
Shcrec recalls how Bob had wanted to give his whole body to her as her slave, and
how
lovingly
teases
it was not much of a body, but she had decided to do the best
shc
had
lot
'done
a
over the years". She continues by rubbing his
she Could Nvith it. and
describes
how
he
skinny
cheek as she
was when she met him; the corporeal zone
Icads casily into her discussing how she had seen women slapping men in movies,
had
Bob
Concentrating
she
and
replicated
and
it.
on the art of where and where not to

115
-

Bob's
slap, she simultaneously and theatrically prolongs the moment to enhance
anticipation, whilst the lingering touch that follows each stroke imbues the act with
love.
Again building tension, Sheree talks of re-enacting the sexualized asphyxiation
scenes of Ai no Corridadn the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, Japan/France,

1976), and discloses that after seeing the film she had always wanted to choke
And
someonewith a chord.
yet, she continues as she stranglesBob, 'I never wanted
to kill them.' As Bob lies unperturbed, underscoredis the consent of the scene:a
Bob's
is
it
is
What
sexual and performative collaboration.
more,
a pleasurableone, as
lust
justify.
deviant
The
is
divorced
from
BDSM
the
purrs
scene
one-sidedsadismor
happily
in
loving,
but
caring relationship.
of most contemporary cinema,
married a
The scene continues with some play piercing. Putting on rubber gloves (both
it',
into
fetishistic),
Sheree
'put
thus
thought
the
to
some
stresses
need
practical and
is
Even
BDSM
that
more convincing at
mindless violence.
rejecting any notion
dispelling myths is the knife she then produces, for it was given to her by Bob; what
in any Hollywood film would be an instrument of pain is in Sick a token of love, for

idea is to scarethem a little bit


it is 'not to kill a person or maim a person,but
the
...
We
Sheree.
'
body
the
to
are
witnessing
says
sensations,
and also create certain
blade
Flanagan's
draws
Sheree
bondage
bond
the
along
vulnerable
when
of
sincere
is
BDSM
trust
The
that
absolute
security,
closeness,
about
scene announces
penis.
involving
is
It
mutual
a complex play of power and pleasure
and absolute control.

love
do
I
it
have
it
done
like
them,
to
'if
to
to
to
Sheree
they
states,
satisfaction, as
love,
founded
be
to
love
on actions we ourselves use express
them.' The
may not
honourable,
is
bruise
distinguish
hard
the
be
to
more
a
which
put
may
we
although
lustfully
lovebite,
but
produced
lovingly
or
a
from a
and carefully placed clothes peg
BDSM
its
For
doubt.
turns out
on
spectacle,
concentration
all
it is love without any
116-

important;
body
Bob's
Sheree
be
are
to
makes on
very cerebral. The temporary scars

to
The
S/M.
'
involved
remembranceadds
with
she notes, There'sa lot of memory
them,
talking
about
the anticipation of the next session, and through getting excited
BDSM
later.
days
feeling
Bob
once more
the sensations of the marks several
and
body
how
it
distances
the
the act of sex, and sexualizes
not just zones
whole
shows
history
Bob's
Indeed,
skin as a
related to sex and gender.
you can read the marks on
their
Sentinel
Cruz
Santa
Wallace
Baine
their
the
reviews
of
relationship.
of
between
S&M
he
harsh
language
'the
they
used
relationship correctly when
of
states,
huge
has
indeed
is
lovers'
dialogue'
Bob
(1997).
And
the
them was
spanked and
a
as
lust,
ball
between
his
his
metal
shoved up
agony and ecstatic
anus,
moans, situated
dispel the dichotomy of pain and pleasure, and voice an exquisite pain, however
be
imagine
it.
Bob
uncomfortable we as spectators might
may
somewhat special; a
Supermasochist even, but Sheree's comment that 'you can never forget having
like
life'
is
based
this
someone
in your
on love not respect or astonishment. It comes
as no surprise then that the scene ends with more loving caresses,before a highly
kiss.
affectionate, and suitably gentle,
What we can therefore conclude from a comparison of 8mm and Sick, is how
latter
BDSM
in
the
positively
openly and
addresses
relation to the controlled body.
In liarticular, through a constitution recognizable from the epic, Sick embraces and
In
the
exults
potential of male masochism.
contrast, 8mm employs BDSM for its
but
female
body
decoy
for
the
the elements of male masochism.
uses
spectacle.
as a
Consequemly. whilst Sick sets up challenges to accepted concepts of sex and gender,
label
to
all that is *other'. in which it includes BDSM as well as
is content
deviant.
snuff. as
Both films arc intrigued by the aesthetics of suffering and the pleasures
of the
body.
IVhere
Torn
Welles and 8mm cannot understand why, Sick. via Bob
controlled
117-

the
he
'.
at
Flanagan, offers the answer, not least in his poem 'Why: which
narrates
but
he
because
Sick.
But
Welles
asks the right question,
end of
cannot understand
film
what
it
is
Welles
not
the
made.
to
the
thing.
was
snuff
applies
asking why
wrong
why).
body
(which
the
question
the
the
answer
would
are
pleasures of
controlled
Thus. he only gets the answers of 'because he could' and 'because I want to. The
film indicates these pleasures to the audience by deliberately hiding them. In other
is
for
words, we recognize our own curiosity
what withheld, namely the controlled
body (we never fully see what happens to either Mary Anne or Eddie Poole). Sick,
however, shows all, and confirrns our interest in the controlled body. We may look
but
does
look
back.
Sick
than
away,
not try to condense the
more often
not, we
But
in
'
the
*Why:
answer;
mass of reasons contained
still provide no resolution.
unlike Welles, Bob recognizes his fascination and accepts it. Until Welles. 8mm and
the majority of mainstream films address it too. rather than merely exploiting it,
BDSM will remain an ever-present but deviant spectacular pleasure of the controlled
body.

118-

I Body Modification:
Modifiable Flesh

Beauty and the Pleasures of the

We must all go through a rite of passage.And it must be physical, it must be painful, and it
must leave a mark.
Captain Howdy (Dee Snider) in Strangeland (John Pieplow, USA, 1998)

Body modification, the permanent and semi-permanentintervention on the body's


surface such as tattooing, piercing, branding and cicatrization (scarification), would
low
down
come quite
on a list of recurrent cinematic themes. However, like BDSM

imagery, body modification often slips through unnoticed, providing convenient but
typically

danger,
'other'
threatening
pejorative connotations of
perversion and

through characters such as villains, 'sexual deviants', and 'foreign' natives. More
it
has
in
background
the guise of
recently,
appeared as subcultural
atmosphere
few
films,
A
tattooed
pierced punks and
skinheads.
modification

however, utilize

body

beliefs
feature
the
the
as a structuring
of
narrative, and explore

associated with these practices.


For the purposes of this chapter, I will use body modification to mean both
but
like
tattooing,
also actions
piercing and scarification,
culturally recognized acts

that appear intertwined with or derived from them. What defines these additional
body,
its
firstly,
is,
the
their
which changes
shape
permanent effect upon
procedures

In
for
is
done
control not necessity. other words, ordinary surgery
or surface, and
body
Similarly,
building
but
fit
into
this
plastic surgery could.
category,
would not

by
basis.
However,
included
be
these
dieting
the
this
are
excluded
on
could
and
is
heightening
importance
immediacy,
defining
the
a
of
which
of
attribute:
second
instantly).
instantly
(or
discemable
is
The
for
the
almost
effect
the act of control.
beauty
between
is
the
pain, pleasureand
generated
relationship
third vital component
by the body modification. The marks connote control but also aestheticize the
focus
is
MY
display.
therefore
Primary
representations
surface
of
into
suffering
-

119-

and
in
body
the
perfecting
that
of
pleasures
radical
are grounded
modifications
body.
the
refiguring
Where BDSM activities are primarily linked to sensual and sexual pleasures,
body modification would seem designed for show first, and any alteration to senses
is
body
be
between
BDSM
divide
However.
the
modification
and
would
secondary.
Primitives
Modem
from
in
1970s.
Emerging
California
the
established
not clear-cut.
a 'subcultural movement in the intersection of the tattoo. piercing, and sadomasochism scenes' (Klesse 1999,15). Reworking traditional ceremonies and rites of
in
involve
intervening
the
the
that
of
shape
passage
piercing, marking, and physically
body (North American Indian Sun Dance, Hindu Ball Dance. breast sculpting etc.),
the group members set out to respond to *primal urges' (Fakir Musafar in Vale and
Juno 1989a, 13), and fused spirituality with the pleasures,experiences.and aesthetics
body
of
rituals.
Christian Klesse (1999) is highly critical of the concept of Modem Primitivism,
it
regarding
as collapsing societal. geographical and historical diversity into a
romanticized notion of the ethnic 'other'. thus perpetuating the pfirnitivist discourse
Bryan
S.
Turner approaches the subculture slightly
to
challenge.
it sets out
differently, but xvith similar resen,ations. He contends that body modification cannot
because
it
in
'primitiveness'
takes
recapture
place
a different social context. Where
in pre-literate societies the marks were 'pen-nanent,collective and largely obligatory'
be
*could
and
read unambiguously" (1999,39). they are now 'part of a personal and
biography'
for
ffiev
have
(1999.4-2)
intcrioishifted from "compulsory rituals to
decorations"
(1999.49).
optional

Klesse too notes the 'primit'veness' has been

identification
tor
'a
personal
appropriated
strategy" (1999.34). and sees it employed
to produce a 'radical critique of the repression of the body and sexuality in
"Western- thouolit and morality'

(1999.34).
-

120-

With such a sexualized scenario

body
BDSM
be
modification.
too eager to segregate
and
possible, we must not
Certainly, high-profile cinematic depictions of body modification have maintained
Crash.
Helena
Boxing
and
the intertwining, and it is these films. in particular. Tattoo.
I will discuss in this chapter.
But body modification does place additional emphasis on displaying and
interpreting the visual signifiers of the marked body. Even in 2003, with piercings
Modem
by
just
undertaken
and tattoos very much part of mainstream culture, and not
Primitives. there is no overwhelming evidence to disprove Paul Sweetman's
label
be
1999
'it
tattooing
that
to
and
contemporary
comment of
misleading
would
72).
(1999b,
fashionable
in
the
-supermarket
of style"'
piercing simply as
products
Indeed, a commonly expressedmotivation for altering the body is asserting control.
Fhus, a professional piercer describes how the act of piercing is frequently felt by
bodies
Myers
1992,282),
(in
'to
their
women as a means
reclaim'

a tattooed

individual states 'there are few enough things I have control over and this is one of
them' (in Benson 2000,252), and in another survey, an interviewee felt becoming
tattooed and pierced was 'a way of reasserting control of her body' (Sweetman
1999a, 173). Body modification therefore fits easily into a late modem condition that
bodv
the
as malleable and alterable, and so can be treated as an aesthetic
coiicelves
it
be
to
controlled and perfected to display your identity.
project allowHig

I'llat bod, modification has become more visible. and is largely inspired by
icsthetic and personal rather than ritual reasons, is not incidental to its cinematic
Indeed.
the increased appearance of body modification themes in
incarnations.
has
coincided with the explosion of interest in the wider culture.
mainstream cinerna
It is readily acknowledged. by anthropologists (Benson 2000). urban ethnographers
(%Icrs 1992) and cultural theorists (Sweetman 1999a. 1999b. Curry 1993) that
Western societies in the penod since the 1960s. and more particularly. during the last
-II-

twenty years, have witnessed a demonstrable increase in the popularity of body


modification. In the United Kingdom in the 1990s,piercings and tattoos sported by
pop stars such as Keith from The Prodigy and the Spice Girls (alongside Seal's

mysterious facial scarring) informed a high-profile fashion basedon permanentbody


markings. Controversy arose(and continues)about suchbody modification practices.
Discourses ranged from appellations (Scary Spice was apparently so called 'because
her
of
wild ways, tattoos and pierced tongue' (Gannon 1997,32)), through publicly

broadcasteddebates(including on radio, Ruscoeon Five (1997), and on television,


This Morning (2000)), to questions of Royal Family leadership and the health of the
(Princess
Anne's daughter Zara Phillips had her tongue pierced, which
nation
prompted the press to examine the health implications, and the British Dental
Authority to declare that a tongue piercing is 'a potential killer' (Murray 1999,11)).
Similar concerns have been in operation in the USA. James Myers conducted an
ethnographic study of non-mainstream body modification (genital piercing, branding,
burning and cutting) in response to 'deep feelings of revulsion and resentment held
by mainstream American society against these forms of body modification' (1992,
269). Moreover, Victoria

Pitts undertook content analysis of USA and UK

featuring
body
discovered
'the most recurrent
modification, and
newspaperarticles
issue raised is that body modifiers may be engaging in self-mutilation and thus may
be mentally ill' (1999,29 1). Just as we saw with BDSM, a pathologizing discourse is

deployed, which repudiates the autonomy and control of body modification. With
interest,
it
is
body
heightened
therefore
that
not
surprising
contentious
and
such
in
impact
had
has
on representationsof control mainstreamcinema.
an
modification

Skin-deep Beauty, Deep Down Control


Tattoos and tattooing have appearedsporadically as significant details in cinema
122-

Murders
Jigsaw
The
be
from
1980s
its
history.
An example
throughout
the
would
being
dismembered
(Jag Mundhra, USA. 1988), which features a
murder victim
identified by a dragon tattoo on her leg. Indeed, tattoos commonly provide the means
by which people are tracked down and identified; we noted this in 8mm, but it also
1987),
in
USA,
Lethal
Weapon
Donner.
(Richard
and many other
occurs

'
films.

Comparably, a tattoo forms a map used to locate land in Waterworld ( evin


Reynolds, USA, 1995).
Memento
film
tattoos
the
twist
as clues.
more recent
puts a
on
use of
(Christopher Nolan, USA, 2000) follows Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) as he
form
Unable
his
to
to
trace
the
new
wife.
endeavours
man who raped and murdered
Polaroid
his
from
demise,
Leonard
the
relies on
memories
point of
wife's
photographs, scribbled notes, and critical facts (and factoids) tattooed on his body as
Leonard
before
his
body
is
As
the
stands
mirror.
an accumulation of
uhles-mmoire.
3.1).
Effectively,
(figure
the tattoos become a memory, a
clues and statements
tIunction that tattooees often triumph their marks as having, Paul Sweetman found
tattoos to frequently be 'Indelible reminders of more or less specifically defined
in
But
174).
Memento.
(1999a,
they encompass Leonard's whole identity:
episodes'

defining his thoughts, beliefs and aims. Crucially. it is his deliberate decision to
false
piece of evidence as a tattoo that allows him control over his inability
hiclude a
to remenibei-.As soon as his memory of the event fades, he trusts the tattoo to be true
it.
acts
upon
and
Through mostly associating the social practice with law-breaking and deviance,

' This narrative ploy can certainINbe traced back beYondThe TattooedStranger (Edward J.
%lontagne,LJ,,A. 1950). bu interestIngly, in Monta-gne'sfilm, just as in Lethal Weapon,it is a
1 in
it the former film and Special Forcesin the latter) that is the identifying
nillitary emblem (NIarines
tattoo. I'attoos can also mislead:the headlessand limbless torso of a man is identified by its ship
tattoo in The Hou.vevl'Fear (Roy \ illiam Neill. USA, 1945),but Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone).
I.iter determinesthat the supposedvictim is still alive. and had copied his own tattoo to make it
appear
lie had been nitirdered.
-

123-

Figure 3.1 Tattoos as memory in Memento

Hollywood perpetuatesan historical link that saw tattooing 'Established as a punitive


Ages
Middle
[and]
Greece,
the
through
in
or proprietary symbol in
continued
...

2
Europe as a means to mark the bodies of criminals' (Fisher 2002,93). The Night of
the Hunter (Charles Laughton, USA, 1955) famously has the preacher (Robert
Mitchurn) with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles, and apparently
look
Robert
De
Niro's
Max
Cady,
Ca
the
the
character.
of
in
remake of
e
influenced
Fear (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1991). As Helen Stoddart has argued, 'His [Cady's]
tattoo-decorated body makes him both text and spectacle, ornament and actiion,
Examining
invasive
(1995,197).
body
the
the
of
ob
gaze"
ject
passive and active
.
his
tattoos are seen in close-up amidst a theme of penetration
search ot'Cady where
by hands, penis. the gaze and needles. Stoddart emphasizesthe tattoos as a text that
deciphering.
But
focus
Stoddart
the
text
needs
on
prevents
noticing that the signs are
b,
body
the
the
way
givcn additional meaning
speaksthrough them. It is not merely
dcnote.
but
how
body
the
the
NN-hat signs
combines with the tattoos to connote more.
Thus. tile body is ii-itegral to the meaning, and matches Jill A. Fisher's observation

The trend exists in literature too. Perhaps most remark-ably, Franz Kafka's 'In the Penal Settlement
has the prisoner subjected to a machine that punishes him by literally writing the crime on his body
The
does
that
the
Puncture
skin.
criminal
needles
via
not know his sentence, which will inevitably be
death. but the officer in charge states: *He'll learn it corporally, on his person' (1949,498), for he
I
'decipliers it with his wounds' ( 1949,50 1).

124-

about the collaboration between tattooist and tattooee so that the tattoo is 'based on
the client's body, using the natural contours of the body to make a more beautiful
tattoo' (2002,99).
Analysing the opening of Cape Fear, Stoddart seesthe tattoo texts obscuring the
book texts adorning Cady's prison-cell wall. But this seems to me only one

importance of the tattoos, for they should also be addressedvia their movement.As
Cady exercises,he raises and lowers his body in a rhythmic controlled action that
animatesthe scalesof truth and justice tattooed on his back. Combined, the tattoos
body
and male
are more spectacle than text; we gaze at a body that displays both
Cady's current physical control (exercise) and past body-modificatory

control

(tattoos). Equally, the scales and the balanced movement suggest calm self-

assuredness.Rather than undermine Stoddart's conclusion that the tattoos 'function


both to reinforce the sadomasochisticassociationscarried by De Niro's body and to
it'
(1995,20
1), an emphasis on how the tattoos are presented
make a spectacle out of
dynamic.
The
both
the
enhances
sadomasochism,
within the narrative and as an
is
De
Niro's
Method
aspect of
acting,
shown as measured and calmly achieved.
Inserting the controlled body into our reading of the scene featuring the body search,
have
Cady
himself
be
to
we can achieve a new understanding, namely,
may
set
up
interrogated by the police to discredit Bowden (Nick Nolte). If Cady is in control of
the event, then it is no surprise that the marks on his body, which he has also

be
controlled, should so visible.
Rather than appearance though, it is the doing of body modification, including

the motivation, the experience, and the aftermath, which concerns me most. The
Pillow Book (Peter Greenaway. Netherlands/France/UK, 1995), although detailing

125-

with
has
association
the
the temporary painting of calligraphy on
a strong
skin,
Fusing
the
body.
human
inscribing
its
the
tattooing via
expression of the pleasure of
lovers
first
Wu)
(Vivian
decoration of the flesh with sexual intimacy, Nagiko
pursues
bodies
lovers'
her
as
illustrate
her
before
finding
who will
gratification in using
skin,
but
tattoos,
canvases. The very transience of the designs prevents the resonance of
the settings of Japan and Hong Kong. and the emphasis on ritualized adornment,
In
body.
imagery
dense
heritage
Asian
tattooed
addition,
equatesthe
of the
with the
book
flaying
dead
decorated
lover's
the
of a
skin to create the ultimate pillow
body
This
decorated
most private of
surface.
suggestsa potential permanency of the
in
in
depicted
Skin, an episode of the television series
to
that
art exists sharp contrast
4
Tales qfthe Unexpected (1980). In a graphic display of body modification as art, a
tattooist (Derek Jacobi) has an artist paint a portrait on his back, before overlaying it
famous,
is
into
Later.
tattoo.
the
the
tattooist
tricked
with a
when
artist is
going to a
hotel,
depicting
by
the artist
non-existent
soon afterwards, a strange canvas
a portrait
for
sale.
appears

In The Musfrated Man (Jack Smight, USA, 1969). Rod Steiger plays Carl, a man
in
illustrations,
he
tattoos.
or skin
covered
as
calls them. Ostensibly linking three
illustrations
for
the
stories,
mysteriously
separate
come alive
anyone who gazes at
them, and reveal their story, in other words, they have a memory function. The film
also touches on the issue of aestheticizing via body modification. In the flashback
Carl
he
initially
the
tattoos.
of
acquiring
slory
is
reluctant, but is captivated by the
Felicia
(Claire Bloom). and becomes entranced by the reflection of
tattooist.
mystical
Ims transt'Ormed body. when Carl thinks he will 'be a freak'. Felicia reassures,
Writing on the skin and turriln-g,the bod\ into art appearsto be part of a Japanesetradition that
t,
Buddhist
legend
\Ilmi-Nashi-Hoichi where a blind artist has his body covered in
the
popular
includes
him.
holy
Angela Dalle Vacche(1996,214-220) believesthe legend mav have
to
protect
spell
a
ji
Ken.
Ownaro
Nfi/opichi's
influenced
o megurugonin no onna Five Womenaround Utunwro
here a %%
(Japan, 1940)\%,
oodblock artist paint, a woman's back, Nhich Is later tattooed.
Roald Dalil's storySAin \%,
as tirst published in the \ew Yorker in 195'2.

126-

'You'll be beautiful' (figure 3.2).


film
Zealand
Nev.
Tattoos are also highly visible in the critically successful
identity
Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori, 1994). Its exploration of cultural
brought a particular style of tattooing to the attention of the northern hemisphere.
Associating the traditional Maori tattoo or moko with both cultural heritage and
youth subculture, one scene shows Nig (Julian Arahanga) enduring a severe eating
face.
his
be
into
before
having
to
accepted
a gang
a moko etched onto one side of
Although Nig sees this as empowering, modem tattoo parlours are linked, by
location at least. to the sleaze of prostitution. Further, it is Nig's younger brother
Boogie (Taungaroa Emile) that is introduced to what is depicted as the more
Once
his
Nonetheless,
haka
Maori
the
the
ancestors.
authentic
and
spirit of
rites of
Were Warriors utilizes the moko body modification as an important evocation of
lack
is
his
his
father's
Where
Nig's
abusive
self-control.
moko equatedwith
restraint,
his
of control is symbolized via
conglomeration of modem tattoos (a scorpion and
barbed wirc) and a more traditional tattooed armband.
Whilst these recent films implicitly acknowledge the rising interest in tattoos,
and their increased visibility, the cultural significance of their relationship to the
body
human
has
remained on the periphery or been ignored. The films
control ofthe
liave treated the tattoos as functional. both Nvithin the narrative (clues) and as part of
the mode of narration (character defining attributes). Only The Pillow Book, which is
not strictly about tattoos. is interested in the pleasures of controlling the body image.
One film that concentrateson the act of control is Bob Brook's Tattoo (1981). but far
from cviniming the pleaSLirableliberation of the control, it deploys it as sadistic
domination.
\I, 's moko prompts a feeling of humanity in a mannersimilar to the facial tattoos of Baines (Harvey
-,
Keitel) in anothcrAustralasian film. ThePiano (JaneCampion, Australia, 1993). It is noticeable that
Ills decoration isju\taposed NN
Ith the plainnessof the unadorned.strait-laced Stewart (Sam Neill), who
his
act ofbody modification by brutall%hacking off Ada's (Holly Hunter) finger.
pci-forms oN%n

127
-

RX,

Figure 3.2 Captivated

by the image of tattoos in The Illustrated Man

As its title suggests, Tattoo has a particular body modification as its narrative
Kinsky
Karl
fashion
Adams)
Maddy
Meeting
(Maud
tattooist
shoot,
on a
concern.
(Bruce Dern) becomes so obsessedby the model that he kidnaps her and tattoos most
is
John
Fowles's
1963,
body.
The
novel of
narrative essentially a revision of
ofher
The Colleclot-, which had already been made into a film under that title (William
Wyler, USA/UK, 1965), and similarly portrays a man holding a woman captive in
dic bcllct' she will come to love him. What differentiates Tattoo is that the act of
but
longer
has
been
body
centred
on
captivity,
no
relocated
onto
control is
body
Raising
the
regulation
of
image.
questions about the sexual
modification and
liberation of women. the film places tattoos within the sleazy world of pornography
but
is
linked
tradition
that
to freedom
grounded
a
in
simultaneously
and prostitution,
and conservatism.
The opening sequence summarizes the crystallization of cultural attitudes
toNvardstattoos. Dressed in an American serviceman's unifon-n. Karl towers over a
Japanese
A
of
men
and
vornen.
reverse shot shows the object of his
surging crowd

128-

Karl
fixated
As
be
from
gaze to
tattooed men in loincloths parading
a
a temple.
photographs the scene,a collection of intercut shots show straining tattooed arms,
backs, buttocks and legs in medium shot and close-up (figure 3.3). Linked by
dissolves, the sequencedraws our attention not to the detail of the tattoos but their
movements as their owners gyrate. The upshot is twofold. Firstly, the inscribed
figures and dragons are imbued with vitality. Secondly, we notice we are doing
something uncommon in Hollywood cinema: marvelling at the beauty of the male

flesh. Thus, we do not seethe art of the tattoo but the art of the tattooedbody.
In contrast to the rigid and sartorially unifonned Karl, the traditional Japanese
freedom.
individuality
tattooed
pseudo-clothingof
vests, suits and pants express
and
The temple, the procession, and the subsequent shot of Karl, in front of Japanese
being
ink
in
(manually
tattooed
the
time-honoured
under
way
putting
screens, and
the skin with a sharp instrument), manifest a conservatism of Japanese society.
Furthen-nore, the Japanese-style tattoo is, as Susan Benson notes in her study of
tattooing, invested 'with the refined aesthetic of an "ancient civilization... (2000,
242). The narrative too appears indebted to Japan by partly replicating Junichiro
Tanizaki's story 'The Tattooer' (1963a), which also features a tattooist who drugs a

dissolve
from
body.
However,
Karl's
her
the
tattoos
cinematic
woman and
Japanese
to
the
tattooed
music,
sameangle of the
non-diegetic
with
arm,
unfinished
diegetic
by
the
tattoo,
sound of an electric tattoo gun,
accompanied
now coloured-in
breaks the senseof tradition, and drags the film into the neon-lit world of the seedy
film,
is
The
to
the
two
the
tattoo parlour.
central
and tattooing
worlds
clash of
functions as the bridge, with particular sexual significance.
The limited motivation for Karl abducting and tattooing Maddy is found in the
flashback voiceover sequenceof a brutal father calling him a sissy, and a pseudofor
his
lack
tattoo
the
that
gun
phallically
compensates
of
psychoanalytic suggestion
129-

Figure 3.3 Male bodies as canvases in Tattoo


beginning
the
of
is
the
latter
The
near
this
vocalized
reading
of
part
sexual prowess.
how
Rembrandt,
'Hey
about sticking your
film when two teenage prostitutes shout,
Maddy
is
that
tattoo
is
-)6
It
that
it
gun
a
it
either
coincidence
no
needle where counts?
her.
he
Karl
kill
to
as rapes
uses
The tattoos reciprocally substitute for Maddy's sexual organs. When Karl forces
Maddy to masturbate whilst he spies on her through a peephole, it is as an alternative
her
for.
her
her
Telling
he
had
to
open
robe and touch
to the tattooing
prepared
herself. he orders her to 'Show me, show me. In accord with cinematic censorship of
the period, the camera has to do the opposite, and pans up Maddy's body showing
her snaking tattoo. And although the shot includes Maddy's bare breasts, the
from
Maddy's
Karl's
displaced
view of
pudendurn onto the audience1)
voyetirism is
s
film
Furthen-nore.
the
torso.
tattooed
as a whole takes on the tone of softview oftlie
core porn. with tattooing interludes. with or without explicit nudity, resembling sex
'
for
displayed
voyeuristic pleasure.
scenes

Later in a film the comparisonis again madewhen a characterdescribesKarl's work as 'a little bit
of
needle.a little bit of dick'.
]'he senseof the erotic and tattoos. although not a cinematic commonplace,does exist
elsewhere.
Enimanuelle2 Enirnanuelle11.Vaw'-I vieiye (Francis Giacobett'. France, 1975) depicts the
central
prota,,onist (SN,Ivla Kristel) being attractedto, and then having sex with, a man covered in tattoos
of

130-

Her
is
revealed.
body
fully
climactically
tattooed
Maddy's
Tattoo,,
At the end of
dissolves,
which
by
linked
tilts,
and
pans
body is shot using an assortmentof slow
the
film,
see
in
we
the
first
time
For
the
display
tattoos.
fetishistic
the
of
create a
to
reacts
Maddy
correspondingly
body modifications in prolonged close-up, and
from
the
digression
established
Her
inspecting
differently,
them with curiosity.
them
by
being
her
by
excited
further
so
distorted
is
is
disgust
contrived, and
pattern of
him.
by
being
initially
raped
his
enjoys
that
tattoos
Karl's revelation of
she
own
the
seeing
of
pleasure
the
Without any motivation,
spectators voyeuristic
Almost
Maddy
excitement.
been
has
sexual
as
transposed
onto
refigurement
in
film
of
the
spite
tone
the
of
misogynistic
certainly, this in some measure explains
the
Tanizaki's
Unlike
Karl.
killing
by
where
story,
Maddy culminating the scene
for
bear
the
her
('I
of
sake
transformation
anything
can
woman eventually embraces
bring
to
black
(a
that
has
beauty' (1963a, 169))8 and
appears
widow spider)
a tattoo
have
been
fears
('All
be
her
true
to
swept
old
my
self
sadistic
considers
she
what
out
her
is
disempowered.
by
Maddy
169)),
963a,
first
'
(I
victim!
away - and you are my
factor
is
I
But
to
the
there
tattoos.
the
another
misogyny,
would
argue
acceptanceof
film.
in
the
type
the
of control exerted
one predicated on
In The Collector, a woman is held captive, and until her death near the end of the
film, there is a sensethat she might escapeand somehow put the ordeal behind her.
Unlike this earlier film, from the moment of Maddy's first tattoo, she cannot free
herself. for a permanently altered body can never be escaped;consequently, there is a

in
And
terms of suggesting a fusion of sensuality and the experience
more
potently,
omen.
NN
apanese
.1
body
modification as an exquisite pain, we watch Emmanuelle ecstatically
undergoing
of
ma-sturbating as acupuncture needles are shown piercing her enraptured face. having previously been
tiscd to pierce her breitsts.
8 Ntiscia-l ces and Sliarpe offer a different reading
of Tanizaki's story: 'To the male artist her tattoo is
but
a concretization of the hidden message of her body: for him it reveals her true
not a mutilation,
dcstructive
to men. But the woman experiences herself as horribly transfigured'
nature as e\ 11and
( 1992b, 148). Such a divergent reading I find difficult to achieve without contriving it, especially
\01cii Faniza-kistates- '.,\ song of triumph was ringing in her ears' (1963a, 169).
1-

131
-

is
It
the
of
intensity
permanency
control.
of
greater

that
tattoosthat appealsto people

me
'to
Karl
hence
states,
2000,249-251),
Benson
1993,70-73:
(Curry
choosethem
the
more
is
all
imposition
tattoos
made
of
things must last'. But respectively, the
of
trauma
9
in
horrendousby their longevity. Of course, reality, the psychological
in
But
bear.
a
impossible
be
to
its
in
that
legacy
may
right
own
captivation createsa
immediacy
of
the
do
films
both
the
aftermath,
not show
visual medium, and where
The
for
misogyny
the
spectator.
the physical change is more comprehensible
body
female
focus
film's
from
the
therefore emanates
on a man refiguring a
narrative
by force.
Karl is evidently a 'control freak': he demands Maddy tell him and not the waiter
in
interest
he
it,
he
drink
shows a particular
and
so
can order
what she wants to
dislocated
in
his
body.
Karl
female
We
the
manner
a
control
exert
see
mastering
fashion
he
Maddy
he
to
the
to
that
the
return
refuses
rewatches
video of
when
he
but
the
commands the woman
peepshow, where
agency,
also, more explicitly, at
he
her
both
do
In
image
is
to.
the
to
tells
the
anything
until
scenes,
not
of
woman
inediated via glass, reinforcing the concept of a two-dimensional image that is
0
'
impression
fagade
The
is
than
substance.
surface rather
of
or skin enhanced by the
film
beauty
Aphrodite
the
about
subsidiary comments in
products, and twin children
being born where one is white and the other is black. The implication is the
importance of exteriors in defining oneself, and the ability (or lack of it) to
control
that inia,-,c.
Symbolically, the tattoos are about controlling Maddy. Karl desires
an old-

In contrast,it is stressedbefore the fashion shoot that Karl is only to paint the
models with designs,
not actually tattoo them. The erotic appealof the refigurement is still noted, with Maddy's boyffiend
suggesungshedoesnot N%
-ashafterwards.but should 'save it for tonight'.
I'lic peepshowbooth is usedNerydiffereiitl to that in Parts, Texas(Wirn Wenders,West
Germany/France/UK. 1984). In that film, the image Travis (Ham, Dean Stanton) has his
of
ex-wife
(Nastassja Kinski) is sNn1bolicalINexposedas false via the camerarevealing her
booth
the
side
of
to
'
be a constructedset. and through their inability to fully
glimpse eachother in the dimmed light.

132'
-

fashionedrelationship with Maddy, where

the
dominates
the man pays, protects and

Maddy's
liberation.
female
founded
to
sexual
prior
world
a
on
woman: a partnership
by
Karl
frightens
disgusts
and
broad-minded and casual attitude towards sex
the
of
his
concern
his
societal
a
reflects
response
undermining patriarchal status,and
ills
1970s,that female sexual freedom was linked to all manner of perceived social
the
identifies
mark
tattoos,
Karl
impotence).
or
divorce
(including
clearly
and male
have
being
who
he
women
mores:
to
them,
such
rejecting
of
a
sign
as
refers
as
The
the
belong'.
that
be
identified;
marked
to
'are
to
attitude
tattoos
ready
ready
by
belonging,
denotes
body
branded)
some
(tattooed, pierced,
although expressed
BDSMers, is not normally gendered, and belies the beliefs more generally associated
free
independence,
being
in
Western
spirit and
tattoos
a
signs of
society, such as
with
4act[ing] less as markers of group identification, and more as expressions of the self
(Sweetman 1999b, 66).
The reason Talwo makes such a misreading is perhaps because of the timing of
the film: it came prior to the increased trend for tattoos, which Sweetman's survey
having
late-1980s'
(1999b, 51). Tattoo
'accelerated
the
to
pinpoints as
since
midtherefore predates the culturally negotiated and espoused meanings founded on
body
be
the
to
consent and
as a personal project
modified. Having said that, the
Japanesefilm Sekka Tomurai Zashilh-ezumilSpirit of Tattoo (Yoichi Takabayashi,
Japan, 1982), coming only one year after Tattoo, does seem slightly more aware
of

thesereasonsin its exploration of sexual obsessionand decoratingthe body. In the


film. Arkanc (Masayo Utsunomiya), a young lover of a married man,
agrees to be
tattooed becauseshe wishes to satisfy his fetish for tattooed women. That once again
rape is linked to tattooing makes the film deepllytroubling, for the renowned tattooist
design
to
the
chosen create
can only work if the woman is simultaneously having sex
to bring the tattoos alive. That Arkane falls in love with her enforced
partner, the

-1

by
a
is
but
the unease modified
tattooist's son. also seemsto condone the rape,
in
by
the
woman
in
her
demeanour
that
to
undergone
transformation
similar
is
than
be
tattooed
rather
Tanizaki's story. Further, Arkane chooses to return to
forced, and it is her story not the tattooist's that we follow. Thus, rather than coercive
taboo
including
the
focus
is
her
culturally
undertaking
choices,
control, the
on
tattooing.
is
her
Maddy is denied the same proactiveness, and the control exerted over
Maddy's
lasting,
In
terms,
modelling
practical
quantifiable and
as well as symbolic.
because
destroyed,
if
be
limited,
in
(especially
1980s)
the
not
career
would
greatly
her body would no longer conform to accepted Westernized images of beauty. As
Mascia-Lees and Sharpe note, the tattooing therefore controls both her sexual
fIreedom by labelling her as his, but also her financial independence for she can 'no
longer use her body as a medium of exchange' (1992b, 153). There is a more
factor
On
her
for
too.
tattoos
the first time, Maddy spits on her hand
personal
seeing
"
3.4).
(figure
Realizing the permanency, she cries, with
and tries to rub the mark off
hope
of contradiction, 'This shit ain't never gonna come off, is it? ' The choice
some
defines
the abject nature of the transformation of her appearance, and the
of noun
smashing of the mirror containing her reflection materializes her rejection of her new
image. The scale of her despondency is developed via her pleading, 'Why didn't
you
just kill me'." To change someone's body image against his or her will is evidently a
denionstration
niassive
of control, and a supremely distressing and unsettling feat.
Fhws.Tatioo, rather than exploring body modification as
a positive Pursuit, utilizes
its aestlietics as a location for mutilation and oppression. It is
if
it is too
as
uncomfortable to recognize such pleasuresof the flesh.
Fherelationship of body modification to self-image is vital,
it
is
therefore
and
noteworthy that the
from
I/L7710110 (C
3.1), TheIllustrated Afan (figure 3.2),
I
_1
Tattoo
(figure
and
3.4) feature
-'-'Llre
the protagonist in front of a mirror, thus enabling the spectatorto seethe
change,and the subject
reactini-Ito the change.

13
4-

____

,#b
,)4

Tattoo
in
body
disgust
Showing
3.4
Figure
modification
at coercive
abject
is
My
is
body
It is valuable to note it is
assertion
image that at stake and not pain.
to
film's
to
the
wadding
or
show any redness
refusal
apparent when we recognize
little
hurt
it
don't
film
in
'if
A
the
tattooee
tattoos.
a
may state
imply sorenessof the
Maddy
is
hard
When
but
fun',
there
of
is shown awakening
evidence it.
no
it ain't no
tor the second time, and seeing her now coloured and emboldened tattoos, she shows
her loathing by her involuntary vomiting. The sight of her body now repels her. But
the spectacle of the controlled body is founded upon the visualized notion of the
control. in other words, the more tattoos, the greater the control. This is why
Maddy's fully tattooed body is withheld until the closure. Unlike Western society
has
been
by
tattoo
the
appropriated
where
many groups 'to signify unconstraint'
(Curry 1993,72), the very opposite is true here. The unveiled Maddy retains the
beauty
both
designs,
through
though.
the
concept of
and earlier comparisons of
Karl's work to that of Rembrandt and being explicitly described as 'art' by the
tashion director. Yet. although referencing the creativity and elegance of the tattoos,
and evoking the opening scene of the film via Maddy and Karl's tattoos coming
.alive' as lie rapes tier. the controlled body, rather than beauty, inforrns the reading
of

135
-

in
Hollywood
tattooing
cinema.
this most explicit occurrenceof

Going Beyond the Surface


Body modification is much more than tattoos though. Some of the most popular
techniques are piercings, which can range from the culturally acceptable and publicly
that
jewellery
offer
to
the
through
piercings
genital
private
more
visible ear and navel
limited
benefits.
Of
course, piercings offer
aesthetic and potentially physical
is
for
films:
is
hole
opportunities
a small
not very exciting visually, and only semidrawn
heal
Thus,
the
they
the
properties
pennanent, so can
up.
are
very opposite of
upon in Tattoo. Even multiple piercings are not cinematic, especially as the act of
is
tattooing,
piercing, unlike
comparatively quick and painless. The relative novelty
and hence voyeurism offered by genital piercing is also denied becauseof censorship
issues. Consequently, piercing is a forrn of body alteration that does not feature
prominently in film.
What does offer opportunities to cinema, but has still not been exploited in many
films. is the perfon-ned rituals involved with piercing the skin, and in particular, the
use of the piercings as points for suspension and load bearing. Two recent fiction
films have tapped into the spectacle of the pierced body within a Modem Primitive
The
Cell
(Tarsem Singh, USA/Germany, 2000) and Strangeland. Both films
mindset:
significantIN, overlap the themes of the other chapters of my thesis. The former
teatures a serial killer who plays mind games with an investigator,
whilst the film
Lises BDSM iconography (pony girl, bondage collars etc.) fused with artistic
ret-erencesto depict the killer's murderous Intent. The latter film has
a serial
kidnapper (and killer) called Captain Howdy. who
again ton-nents his pursuer, and
his
subjects
victims to enforced non-mainstream body modifications.

The Cell is of lesserinterest in the context of this


chapter, for it offers limited
136-

bizarre
his
by
defined
largely
is
killer
Nonetheless,
body
the
alterations.
examplesof
back,
his
whilst
into
the
he
himself
on
skin
via metal rings embedded
ritual:
suspends
to
his
him;
therefore
serves
beneath
lies
bleached
body
his
suffering
the
victim
of
they
in
as
hoops
up
The
hers
3.5).
(figure
close
shown
are
metal
reflect and reinforce
that
body
his
of
as
well
as
strain to tear through the skin, and confirm a control over
from
hanging
Sadhus
Indian
his victim. The suspension reworks the spiritual act of
flesh hooks. Fakir Musafar, a central figure in establishing Modem Primitive beliefs,
has copied the rituals (figure 3.6), and more recently, it has become a familiar sight
in performance art, for example, John Kamikaze suspendedhimself from meat hooks
is
Cell
The
Selfridges's
in
in
2003.
Like
Kamikaze,
London
May
in
shop window
it
in
investing
body
the
than
with any
more concerned with
modification as spectacle
is
intent
In
Strangeland
great meaning.
contrast,
on stating the relevance of
body
the
through piercings and pain.
controlling
Fakir Musafar has stated that 'if society won't give them [people] a rite of
invent
they'll
passage,
one! " (in Vale and Juno 1989a, 11). The central character in
Sirangeland espouses his sentiment. Taking his inspiration from Vale and Juno's
book
Modern
Primitives: An Investigation of Contemporary Adornment &
influential
Rillud (I 989b), Captain Howdy recites phrasessuch as 'I'm interested in heightening
people's awareness: altering states through primitive rituals', and 'The act of slow
piercing is a transcendent, spiritual event, there is no pain just sensation.' 12However,
rather than exploring the personal pleasures of controlling the body image and
Modem
Primitive body modification techniques, Strangeland
sensorium via
merely
'erci
i
it
to
Utilizes pi fligs
signi paiin and coercive control. As with Tattoo, marking
.body
is
the ultimate sign of mastery. Consequently, as in the
miother's
majority of
12Fhe second sentence

of the epigraph to this chapter, which is also spoken by Captain Howdy in


the
film. is a sli,,,,htl\ abridged \ ersion of a statement made by Fakir Musafar in
the book. Speaking about
the need for a rite of passage, Musafar states. 'It must be physical, it
must be painful, it must be
bloody. and it -should leave a mark' (in Vale and Juno 1989a, 11).

137-

Figure 3.5 Body modification


in The Cell

reflecting the suffering of the serial killer's victim

'7;

IWO

Figure 3.6 Fakir Musafar hangs from flesh hooks (Modern Primitives: An
Investigation of Contemporary Adornment & Ritual by Juno and Vale (1989b))
depictions of BDSM, body modification is appropriated as a visual trope for sadism
(in spite of Captain Howdy saying, 'I find sadists to be rather dull').
Although Captain Howdy undergoes O-Kee-Pa (hanging from hooks through his
in
flesh)
to
the
achieve
same spiritual enlightenment as the
attempt
an
pectoral
Shaman (figures 3.7 and 3.8). and a minor character explicitly champions being a

138-

Figure 3.7 Captain Howdy undergoes O-Kee-Pa in Strangeland

K!

- .., '4

AV

-S..

".:
IA

-1"

4-

Figure 3.8 Fakir Musafar undergoes O-Kee-Pa (Modern Primitives:


An
hwesfqafion of Contemporar1,Adornment & Ritual by Juno
and Vale (1989b))
139-

of
bodies,
the
majority
Modem Primitive and the pleasureof 'power over our own
an
forcibly
is
given
Thus,
a man
the film is about body alteration used as torture.
endures
bar
woman
horizontal
(a
the
captive
the
through
penis), a
glans of
ampallang

flesh),
another
the
frame
and
(a
Kavandi-bearing
of spearsstuck into
ceremony
a
his
film,
prisoners
his
And
flesh
hooks
the
has
throughout
all
through
skin.
put
man
have their mouths sewn up. With such depictions clearly clashing with the sentiments
for
done
is
body
reasons,
being
Modem
Primitive,
the
personal
marking
where
a
of
its
loses
body
for example, self-awarenessand asserting independence,
modification
deviant.
defined
fusing
as
of pleasure and pain, and participants are
masochistic
Consequently, the world of the Modem Primitive is seen as incomprehensible, and so
is,
Howdy
Captain
if
know
they
who
no members of the community are even asked
The
distinctive
by
his
highly
be
identified
he
septum piercing.
could easily
although
impression Strangeland therefore leaves you with is of body piercing as performative
inscriptive.
for
domineering,
However,
than
sensually and consensually
and
rather
the devotee of such pursuits, there remains the pleasure of seeing one of the few
body
depictions
cinematic
of such acts of
modification.

Cinema has expressed a greater interest in more extreme forms of body


is
longstanding
There
though.
tradition of showing the disfigured
a
modification
body, notably the process of reversing it, as well as achieving it. I must reiterate
though that I am only focusing on films that utilize the refigured body because of its
domination
themes
to
of
ability
summon
and sensual control. Such refigurement of
the human body may seem quite incongruous with body modification practices such
as picrcing and corseting, but when one considers chosen scarification and branding,
the distinction no longer scernsto apply.
Although a number of films, especially in the period up to the late 1930s,
tleatureda macabre concentration on people with physical disabilities, there
are only
140-

body
practices.
be
deemed
few
modification
to
that can
comparable contemporary
a
Thesefilms highlight unnecessarysurgeryand

is
It
image.
body
the creation of a new

is
it
but
body
briefly
cinema,
to
modification
these
of
antecedents
note
productive
begun
sensual
have
or
films
in
last
decades
to
aesthetic
an
that
the
two
suggest
only
deformity.
be
in
regarded as a
pleasure an appearancethat would normally
In the 191Os and 1920s, Lon Chaney Snr became renowned for playing
13
from
the
deformed
In
circulating
the
arose
notoriety
part,
characters.
physically
his
his
body
he
to whilst performing
roles,
tales of the punishment
subjected
Gary
consequently,

Morris

has more

recently

called

him

14

'cinematic

Browning,
(Tod
in
The
Unknown
Chaney
(1995).
In
1927,
supermasochist'
starred
USA). Bizarrely, Chaney's character, Alonzo, is a circus knife-thrower with no arms,
but what makes the film pertinent is that the narrative reveals he actually does have
deceit
him
hide
from
(the
to
the police), yet he chooses to have them
arms
enables
amputated.
Nanon (Joan Crawford), the woman Alonzo loves, refuses to be touched by a
believes
if
he
has
Alonzo
man, and
no arms she will reciprocate his love. That
Alonzo strangled Nanon's father, with Nanon only witnessing that the assailant had
two thumbs on one hand, further complicates the story. In effect, Alonzo choosesone
typc of defon-nity (no arms) over another (surplus digit), with the aim of making
himself desirable. Refigurement to create an improved body image is
evidently a
ilarrative concern, although the voyeuristic pleasure for the audience is seeing Lon
Chailey drink from a glass held in his feet.

In addition to Quasimodoand the Phantomof the opera,he was blind TreasureIsland (Maurice
in
Tourneur, US.A. 1920), a fake cripple in TheMiracleMan (George Loane Tucker, USA, 1919),
a
parallic in TheBlackbird (Tod Browning. LISA. 1926),a paraplegic in Westof Zanzibar (Tod
Brownin, LJSA. 19228)and an amputeein ThePenali-(Wallace Worsley. USA, 1920),
-,.
amongst
others.
14I'heseopinions \%ereformed e\ en thou-ghfor
some films Lon Chaney Snr did have a body double
(see Nfir-salis,2000).

141
-

Tod Browning's most infamous film, Freaks (USA. 1932), also requires
freak-show
performers,
features
freak
in
Set
actual
of
a cavalcade
a
show. it
mention.
Living
the
Randian,
down),
from
had
body
John
Eck
(who
the
waist
no
including
ToPolThe
El
Torso, and the armless FrancesO'Connor. Not until the cult western
Crippled
films
Mole (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mexico, 1970), and the martial arts
USA,
Yue,
(Shia
Heroes
Crippled
Masters (Joe Law, Hong Kong, [ 1984?]) and Two
But
1983) would cinema again feature actual limbless characters so prominently.
Freaks is the only film of the four to articulate a spectacle around body modification:
legless
into
is
Baclanova),
Cleopatra
(Olga
beautiful
a
trapeze artist,
the
mutilated
feathered freak by the other performers for trying to poison her midget

15
husband.

As a retort to her calling the rest of the troupe 'freaks', the destruction of her body
image is chosen as the site of greatest punishment. For all the shock of Cleopatra's
image
is
forever
bound
in
the
the
the
of
control
up
changed appearance,
spectacle of
the other members of the cast. Her suffering is therefore witnessed through their
(perceived to be painful) disfigurement.
Facial disfigurement is a more common feature of Hollywood cinema. Based on
Victor Hugo's novel L'Homme Qui Rit (1869), The Man no

Laughs (Paul Leni,

USA, 1928) tells the story of a boy whose face has been deliberately disfigured into a
film
have
influenced
The
William Castle's Mr Sardonicus (USA,
to
appears
rictus.
1961), where the pen-nanentgrin is an unfortunate affliction caused by fright, and the
focus
is
iiarratiN,c
on trying to remove it. Curing rather than creating is also the theme
Johnny
Handsome (Walter Hill, USA, 1989). As opposed to Mask (Peter
of
Bogdanovich. USA. 1985). which shows that disfigurement is
no bar to being
humaile. Johimy Hwulsome proposes a physiognomic

approach that aligns facial

151,11
Cnewly constructedhuman chicken freak looks remarkably similar to stills of a scene
omitted
from the final print of Westol1airibar. which had Lon Chaney half human
as
and half duck.

142
-

will
is
surgery
that corrective
defon-nity with murderous actions. The premise
failure
this
enterprise
depiction
the
of
but
of
the
narrative's
prevent recidivism,
the
is
of
being
symptom
deformity,
a
than
crime,
of
cause
a
suggests
rather
look
is
*normal'.
for
it.
film's
to
The
the
therefore
theme
need
propensity
None of the films mentioned so far in this section invest their narratives with a
fonn.
in
or
based
the
revenge
of
transformation,
except
on the visualized
pleasure
The
in
finger
The
the
severing of a
explains
of
coercion
same
attitude
punishment.
Annie
film
Misery,
in
Rob
Reiner's
Piano, and the equally graphic scene
when
his
by
hobbles
Shelton
Paul
the
ankles with a
smashing
mercilessly
prone
body
definitely
Both
modification as graphic
employ
scenes most
sledgehammer.
forms of control. Both are spectacular (albeit in different ways), yet they do not
beyond
for
find
To
the additional
convey pleasure or purpose
an urge
practicality.
informs
body
in
that
component
modification
society as a whole, namely enjoying
16
look
refigurement, we need to
elsewhere.
Perhaps the most vivid examples are found not in Hollywood, but in the New
York-based Cinema of Transgression. Blending performance art, hard-core
pornography and direct cinema, filmmakers such as Nick Zedd and Richard Kern.
films
deal
that
produced a raiige of
with images of sadism, masochism, gender roles
individuality.
A culturally and cinematically influential movement, three films
and
following
discussion of Boxing Helena and Crash.
to
the
are of specific relevance
Richard Kem's Pierce (USA, 1986) is a documentary showing his
girlfriend
ALidrey Rose having her nipples pierced. Detailing a subject now familiar from
countless television documentaries, the film came after Robert Having His Nipple
Piercetl (Sandy Daley. USA-

1968), which

featured Robert Mapplethorpe

16Mthough Annie in lfi.


Lwvsays Immediately after smashingPaul's ankles that she loves him,
the
her
to
no
is
in
way
related
previous action.
sentiment

14
3-

undergoing a similar bejewelling. Thus, Kern's film continued the process of


mainstreaming the once very marginal pursuit, and may indicate a specific shift in

the mid-1980s from the videos of Modem Primitives and body modification
17
conventions, towards films made by dedicatedfilmmakers, however marginal and
underground. Further, by these subcultural filmmakers showing an interest in
recording body modification, it was almost inevitable that mainstreamcinema would
eventually embrace some depictions too.
More extreme than Pierce is Kern's later documentary The Sewing Circle (USA,
1992). Featuring Kembra Pfahler, the film graphically depicts the temporary body
modification of sewing up her vagina. Clearly a chosen and collaborative act with
two other women, the film heightens the sense of body modification being an
8
'
dramatic
exquisite pain, and makes a
spectacle of the sexualized controlled body.
The final film that seems particularly relevant to the notion of beauty and
disfigurement is Nick Zedd's War is Menstrual Envy (USA, 1992).19In one scene,
Annie Sprinkle, notorious pro-porn feminist sex educator and performer, kisses and

licks the bum-scarred body of a man dressed in a soldier's uniform. Nick Zedd
describes how he used an actual bums victim,, whose skin he shows in close-up,
because 'I felt that he was both beautiful and ugly' (in Sargeant 1995,69). The
disfigurement
(close-up
and change of perspective
rather than long
amalgamation of
17For example Signatures of the Soul (Geoff Steven,New Zealand, 1984), Fakir Musafar's Sun Dance
1985)
Charles
(Dan
Jury
Mark
Jury,
USA,
Gatewood's
in
Sacred
Profane
Dances
and
and
ritual
and
Tattoo, San Francisco (USA, [ 1988?]). We should also note that Richard Harris had earlier provided a
fake and inaccurate form of Sun Dance in A Man Called Horse (Elliott Silverstein, USA, 1970).
" Similar sceneshave apparently been depicted in the hard-core pornographic films Finally Punished
(no details available) and Verfickt undZugendht (Harry S Morgan, West Germany, 1997). Due to the
laws,
it
has
been
films,
UK
these
possible to substantiatethis, and
not
censorship
and current
nature of
in
Sewing
Circle
Disinfo
The
Nation
Channel
4
the
television
programme
showed a clip of
yet,
(200 1). Such a seemingly contradictory stancemight indicate a polarization of the categoriesof
documentary and fiction: the sequencebroadcastby Channel 4 was framed within an infon-native,
documentary aesthetic,whilst the films are associatedwith fictional entertainment.Thus, it appears
but
if
it
if
it
informs,
by
be
its
body
not
entertains,
that extreme
shown
stressing
can
modification
pleasures.
19The influence of the Cinema of Transgression(or at least Nick Zedd) can be noted by Quentin
Tarantino naming the policeman in Pulp Fiction (USA, 1994) after the director, and including a line
(Bliznick
1996).
Zedd
fake
about
the
that references
obituary published

-144-

erotic.
are
textured
beauty
skin
types
of
and what
shot) challengesour notions of
from
film
Hollywood
Helena
Boxing
is a
Less graphically, but more notoriously.
body
alteration.
beauty,
and
1993 that approachesthese same themes of
perspective
intriguing
has
Helena
narrative,
Boxing
flaws
film's
In spite of the
an
numerous
'20
living
for it aestheticizes the suffering of amputation by depicting a man creating a
thorny
Raising
the
BC).
100
de
Milo
(anonymous,
Venus
circa
equivalent of the
issue of whether the refigured body is beautiful, the film

is a prominent

in
body
mainstream cinema.
modification
refon-nulation of
Replicating a characterization familiar from Tattoo, Dr Nick Cavanaugh (Julian
Sands) is revealed to be sexually inadequate (premature ejaculation) and have an
his
foible
(he
shirt),
continually changes
obsessive

21

his
actions are parcelled
whilst

into a pseudo-psychoanalytic explanation of a neglectful father and a tormenting


he
in
films
Both
mother whom
watched
a primal scene.
evidently correspond to
Victoria Pitts (1999) discovering that body modification is pathologized in the
media. In the case of Boxing Helena, the act of self-definition through body
is
modification
not only inaccurately transposed onto another's body, but is also, in
inverted
from
effect,
an expression of agency into a sign of psychologically abnormal
Nick's
compunction.
obsession with Helena (Sherilyn Fenn), a previous one-night
stand. apparently leads him to hold her captive and perform successive double
.1
her
limbs.
Although the end of the film exposes the surgery
amputations of
and
imprisonment to be a dream, the closure fails to undercut what has
gone before; the
boxing ot'Helena, with body modification seen as pathologically deviant,
remain the
flicnics
film.
the
abiding
of

10ReN
WNN
s of Boxing Helena are frequently prefaced bN comments describing the withdrawal
both
of
Madonna and Kim Basinger from pla%ing the lead role, Nviththe damning
conclusion that the
compensation %Is Basinger Nvasobliged to pa,, for her actiions was money Nvell
(Kempley
spent
1993;
lt
Lipman 1991).
21Ili I'tittoo. Karl's
My hold a public telephone
n1inor tick is that he NN-111
with a cloth.

145-

As with Tattoo. Boxing Helena reworks the subject matter of

but
The Collector,

latter,
in
the
nor
by
is
d'&re
as
containment
the raison
not control

by
regulation

Lynch,
who
Chambers
Jennifer
Thus,
beautyit
is
control via codes of
mutilation,
the
images
of
and sounds
both directedand wrote the screenplay,loadsthe film with
Doric
is
and
in
Helena
holds
of
Nick
house
mass
beautiful.
The
a
captive
classically
Ionic columns, with strategically placed urns evoking the grandeur of ancient
fine
to
calling
into
Filtered
via
art
the
references
are
classical milieu
civilizations.
1485)
Venus
(circa
Birth
featuring
The
statues,
Botticelli's
of
plethora
a
and
of
cards
including the constantly referred to Venus de Milo-esque figure. Popular classical
Brandenburg
from
Bach's
including
features
excerpts
prominently,
music also
Concerto No. 3, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, and Puccini's Nessan Dorma and
La BoNme. The aural and visual notoriety of these sights and sounds allows their
inference
is
beauty.
The
to
abundantly
mere presence evoke classical concepts of
has
beautiful
in
his
home
is
become
Nick
Helena
things
to
and
clear:
one of them.
The issue is whether she is still beautiful when reduced, quite literally, into a
In
sedentary object. tandem, questions regarding the objectification of women are
brought to the fore.
Helena first comes face-to-face with the marble effigy that will inspire her
lures
Nick
her to his home by stealing her address book. As
i-cfigurement when
she
her
the
eilters a room.
camera represents
point of view, and tracks in on a Venus de
22
Milo-esque statue. An oblique reverse shot shows Helena standing before it,
by
its
beauty. A two-shot that follows shows the goddess
captivated
of love and
beauty dispassionatcly returning Helena's gaze, whilst we, as
audience members,
objectify the pair (fioure 3.9). Even without any knowledge of her fate, we Can see

11

-- Although blatantINresembling the Grecian art objject,it is noteworthy that it has its lower legs
missin", thus creating a greatersimilarity to the boxed Helena.

146-

Helena
Boxing
in
beauty
Statuesque
3.9
Figure

dress
that
corresponds
her
white
short-sleeved
lelena
I
as a potential simulacrum via
23
her.
front
in
form
of
to the marble
Having
for
Nick's
highlights
used
control.
need
In addition to beauty, the scene
it
it,
before
having
denies
he
bait.
a
silver
on
book
revealing
initially
the address
as
film
theme
the
The
lid.
the
of
control.
trom
reasserts
of
remainder
a
under
salver
harem,
door
fretwork
and after
Symbolically, the
and windows echo a
on the main
I Mena's legs have been amputated,we have successiveshots of a bird in a cage and
her
by
Helena
Nick
the
telephone
to
tonnents
offenng
call
also
of
a
rose.
a cutting
t'()r help, but then discloses he has disconnected it. Later, after performing the
is
feeding
her,
Nick
her
Helena's
drink
seen
an-ns,
giving
a
surgical removal of
and
from
face.
her
However,
aii
eyelash
positions of control oscillate. Helena
rcinoviiii,
torniciits Nick about his inability to give her an orgasm, and she instructs him on
llo%Nto sexually fulfil a woman. before objectifying him as he puts her advice into
practice. Furthermore. she orders Nick never to leave her alone and states, 'You
21PeterCyreenaway*s.
4 Zed and TwoVozights(UK/Netherlands, 1985) had previously made the
explicit link-betweenthe statueand a female amputeeby charactersreferfing to a woman with no legs
as Venusde Milo. The Japanesefilm Afqlu Blind Beast(Yasuzo Masumura, 1969) is closer to the
essenceof Boxing Helena though, with an artist eventually severing both arms and both legs of a
Ib
his
captive woman, action prompting the reciprocal destructionof the statuehe had made of her.
I

147-

'
be
think you can't
a man without me.
dictate
to
his
focused
is
ability
it
on
Nick's control is primary though, and
Nick
it:
linked
to
is
fielena*s body. As with Tattoo, the representational image
before
fountain
in
the
Helena
cavorting
(and
of
video
therefore
a
controls)
watches
her
had
her
all
she
when
being a captive. and he pores over glamour photographs of
When
dominated.
we
is
form
that
most
limbs. But. of course. it is her physical
literally
has
Nick
flowers,
by
quite
boxed
Helena
table
the
the
surrounded
on
witness
image
this
important
For
beauty
the
question
this
most
me,
on
a
pedestal.
put
24
declares
Nick
beautiful.
is
Helena
demandsanswered is whether
categorically
still
know
'I
by
his
is,
stating,
remarks run contrary to accepted sentiments
she but notes
it's hard. but you do look beautiful today.' For the audience, the altar-inspired set
icon.
living
Positioned
Helena
the
on a cardinal red
as a
newly modelled
establishes
flowers,
by
braiding,
throne
surrounded white
and set on a wooden
cushion with gold
licicna is a deity of deformity: a symbol deemedworthy of reverence (figure 3.10).
Hclena's beauty could be regarded as conforming to the uncritical response that
beautiful
the
allows
portrait of a
Personto be defined as a beautiful portrait. In other
beautiful,
Helena
it does not matter how Nick has recreated her.
\ords. as
is
I IoNwver. our knowledge of a before and an after, stresses Nick as an
artist.
urtlierniore. Helena has been constructed both physically and with regard to her
Denied
linibs, the resulting stasis means her beauty must be
representation.
pictorial
ratlier dian dramatic or perfon-native: she is a work of art. What is more, in
accorclanccNvitli a traditional perspective of art, she shows no sense of effort in

141should
stressthat the emphasison still being beautiful is founded on the textual construction
that

II elena N%iis
beautIfu I before being, boxed. Her beaut-is
not onk related to Nick's perception. but that
of' 0,ther men in the nar-ratl\e. the camera, and implicitly the audience,
and was established through her
perfOrined displa\ s of her body in the fountain and in her bedroom for her lover, Ray
(Bill Paxton),
A\ith N ick voNeuristically spyinic,from outside.

148-

Figure 3.10 Helena as a deity of deformity in Boxing Helena


25
creating the art. Helena's lack of involvement therefore puts further weight on Nick

her
before
her
as artistic creator of
image, in spite of
attractive appearance existing
his intervention.
Like the Venus de Milo-esque statue, Helena is placed to be stared at. But
is
beauty
disfigured,
is
disfigured
Helena
the
that
whereas
statue
a manmade
is
a
beauty that has been manmade. Are both, therefore, beautiful in the same manner? Is
the original Venus de Milo a beautiful object only in spite of its defects, or does the
beauty
deformity
traditional
allow the magnificence to stand
and classical
contrast of
in greater relief?
It seems pertinent to note that two photographers, George Dureau and Joel-Peter
Witkin, have explored this very complex relationship of defon-nity and beauty via
frequently
depicted
has
imagery.
Dureau's
to
male nudes,
work
classical
allusions
Edward
disabilities,
those
and
columns.
plinths
alongside
posed
with
including
Lucie-Smith has attested that Dureau's photographs speak to the observer in terms of
It may sound like a contrived way of saying an art work is inanimate, but rather I am stressingthe
is
be
declared
beauty
(one
to
that
that
no
applied
women),
effort
must
even
widespreadconception of
by the beauty, although we may be fully aware that great effort must have been exerted to achieve the
beauty. It is perhapsbest described as -race in women, but there is no such category in art, although
there remains a clear distinction between the artist (effort) and the createdwork (beauty).

149-

*how their [the models'] deformities have made a positive contribution to their
development as people' (in Dureau 1985,10). In stark contrast, Helena screams:

'How can I ever look at myself and think of myself as worthwhile, worth
something? ' Rather than projecting identity as in Dureau's photographs, Helena's

form
altered
representsa destruction of identity. A reading along these lines could
finds
films,
Martin
F.
in
his
in
Norden,
disability
to
enlighten us as why
study of
Boxing Helena 'pivots on a premise that ranks as one of the most repellent in movie
history'

(1994,311).

But the underlying sexual tone of Boxing Helena, in

conjunction with the refigurement,might also be to blame for the feelings of distaste.
George Dureau's work directly addresses a tension between eroticism and
its
revulsion via
explicit use of nudes. Joel-Peter Witkin has also sometimes used
in
his
fusion
freak
nudes
photographic
of
shows and crazed still lifes. In a range of
images he has depicted dwarfs, hermaphrodites, obese people and amputees amidst
fetishistic regalia such as corsets, ropes and masks, but staged them against
backgrounds that reference pastoral scenes or specific works of art (figure 3.11).
What should be a juxtaposition of accepted beauty with traditional images of
form
fascinatingly
different
deformity
is
in
truth
of elegance with the
a
ugliness and
Lucie-Smith
Dureau's
ftisson
Edward
quite rightly says of
added
of sexuality.
has
its
deformity
'the
that
that
own allure, and
photographs acknowledge
portfolio
thus involve a direct confrontation with a very uncomfortable area of human
be
The
1985,10).
Dureau
(in
applied even more
exact sentiment could
psychology'
Witkin's
to
photographs.
ardently

The boxed Helena seemssomewhatadrift from a similar interpretation though.


The fault, if it can be called that. is the retention of her pretty prettiness,with not a
hint of raggednessthat scarring, rednessor even a bandagewould bring. And yet, her
The
defining
Helena
is
her
has
is
limblessness
additional
quality.
aspect
a
emphatic
150-

Witkin
Joel-Peter
by
Hat
(1985)
Blue
in
Figure 3.11 Woman the
desire
The
display.
is
to
damage
for
and
deformity.
see
her
on
no
mystery about
know is a very powerful allure. Leslie Fiedler has commented that:
beyond
beholders
to
temptation
'normal'
go
a
abnormality arouses in some
looking to knoiOng in the full carnal sense the ultimate other. That desire is
longing
for
implies
it
freaky,
however,
t'elt
not only a
since
as
itself
degradation but a dream of breaching the last taboo against miscegenation.
(In Norden 1994,316)

It has been suggestedthat Boxing Helena sharesthis fascination but dare not show it;
different
body
behind
issues
the
the
masks
attraction
of
it
iiistcad.
of male
domination and sexual inadequacy. In an essay entitled 'Taking the Lid Off Helena',
known
has
T
an author
only as
argued that:
Flic real story is of a surgeon devotee mutilating a woman, not in pursuit
of
but
poNN-er. simply to convert her body into a fon-n that was even more
desirable.
being
the
gain
in
power
merely a contingent effect of the
sexually
2001a)
(J.
IIILItIkItIOII.
The essayis,part of a Nvebsiteentitled OverGround which is described
as:

151
-

dedicatedto providing support and information for those of us, Devoteesand


Wannabes, who are attracted to others with physical disabilities, mainly
amputees,and for the people to whom we are attracted.(J. 2001b)
Noting its stake in the subject, it is not surprising to find this source advancing the
thought that Nick is a devotee, or to put it another way, experiences acrotornophilia,
that is, someone who is sexually aroused by an amputee. Although not a frequently

discussedfetish, it has been noted alongside apoternnophilia(being sexually excited


by the fantasy or actuality of being an amputee), and recently, various media have
begun to explore them. In the United Kingdom, within the space of fourteen months
the BBC broadcast 'Out on a Limb/Complete Obsession: Body Dysmorphia' (2000)

limb
have
desire
Horizon
documented
the
the
to
a
series, and
which was part of
feature
'
Bizarre
'Stumped!
magazine ran a
entitled
about apotemnophilia
amputated;
Ron
(Griffiths
2001,70-74)
tattooing
and
alongside articles on
and acrotornophilia
Athey's perfonnance art; and Freak Out, a Channel 4 series about disabilities,
featured animation films portraying a pretender (someone who masquerades as an
latter
devotees
(2000).
The
was modelled on, and named
and amputees
amputee),

by
Beverlee',
Adventures
'The
of
which was created
after, a web-basedstory called
Kim Barreda, a double amputee. The stories humorously chronicle the pleasures and
magnetism of amputation.

26

These circulating debates are taking place after, and perhaps in the light of,
Boxing Helena, and share a common conception of extreme body modification. But
devotee?
Does
he
in
is
Nick
the
narrative as a
see
established
can we truly suggest
Helena as more pleasing after her amputations? Unlike Ray (Helena's lover), who

is
is
Nick
'freak',
but
beautiful'
that
'She
thinks
the
a
adamant
she
now
cries
was
2" The original story on the World Wide Web ran into trouble for using Barbie dolls for its characters,
figure
Mattel,
by
Barbie's
decision
releasing
a
wheelchair-based
manufacturer,
called
a
prompted
big
fit
into
in
The
1997.
Barbie's
the
that
too
to
Becky'
Smile
wheelchair
was
was
problem
'Share a
house:
her
her
that
telling
an
oversight
acts
as
a
and
statementabout
car
as
such
accessoryproducts
in
broader
disabilities
the
public arena.
the treatment of people with

152-

of
the
staging
that
alongside
is
It
beautiful'.
noteworthy
also
boxed version -is
fY
his
antas
has
he
with
her
sex
looks
to
when
Nick
over
I lelena as a venerableicon,
But
his
for
Helena
satisfaction.
imagine
sexual
his
lover. perhapssuggesting needto
be
overly
would
the
narrative
defining
details
of
characteristics
these
to assert
as
the
but
via
devotee
only
reading,
has
to
deterministic.The text
enoughspace permit a
a
as
Acrotomophilia
merely
be
exists
it
to
taboo
too
that
mentioned.
was
assumption
body
the
the
of
control
text
the
examining
content
seems
ripple not an undercurrent;
Helena
if
film
The
beauty.
asks
of
expectations
challenging
and
via appearance,
but
is
the
for
Nick,
least
being,
yes,
and the answer, at
remains an attractive sexual
in
her
has
her
limbs
sexuality grow stature.
not made
removal of
Like Nick's d6cor, the film's interpretations of sexuality and beauty are classical.
Body modification is a means to an end; there is no pleasure in the act of
its
is
Helena
an aestheticized spectacle of the
results.
refigurement itself or even
body,
but
is
lost.
Our
one where any pleasure in pain, or even sensation,
controlled
from
derivcd
Nick's
domination
physical
ii-iterestis
and Helena's sexual domination,
but mostly through our reaction to questions of Helena's status as a beauty and her
comparison \\ ith notions of art. As such. Boxing Helena chiefly avoids the issue of
in
bodv
In mainstream American cinema, it is only
oratification
modification.
Ithrow-11ithe filin Crash that the pleasures of extreme body refigurement, in the
colitcxt of socially prevalent forrns of body modification, have expressly been
spokcii.

Scars and Cars


Cronci-iberg's
Crash. a Canadian film, but part
id
of what has been called
-greatcr Hollywood' (Smith 1997.14). avoids the
sadistic impulses that tamish
Boxing Helena and Tatioo. and
exploits and explores some of the pleasures
of

153
-

of
approach
the
Avoiding
essentialist
body
in
modification.
consensual
participating
of
Crash
symbol
a
utilizes
for
rituals.
-authentic'
Modem Primitives and their search

and
tattoos
than
Thus,
its
rather
Westernexcess.the motorcar.to provoke context.
injuries
pleasurable
a
as
the
film
resulting
treats traffic accidents and
piercings, the
body.
the
to
way mark
would,
refigurement
Crash
at
To regard
as an unqualified celebratory glance
however. be wrong. The visual style, the remotenessof characters and the narrative
to
if
feel
coincide
(which
the
overlooked)
are
patterns
rhythmic
monotone
repetitions
frustrate a search for an expression of gratification based upon body control and
but
icily
the
feel
Passion
composed,
so
should never, could never,
nianipulation.
'refusal to get too excited' (Rodley 1997,189) provides a backdrop of control against
body
sexuality
and
modification are performed.
hich
Based on J.G. Ballard's 1973 book of the same name, Crash depicts the open
marriage of JamesG. Ballard (JamesSpader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara
Unger). After crashing into the automobile driven by Dr Helen Remington (Holly
I lunter), a collision in xvhich her husband is killed, James is drawn Into a subculture
bruised
bodies. Orchestratedby Vaughan (Elias Koteas), the carot'battcrcd cars and
crash sLirvivors restage famous automobile accidents, are transfixed by videotaped
vehicle safct tcsts, aiid philosophize about what it all means. For the Ballards, this
offers an escapefrori-i their jaded sex lives. These crash-junkies seek fulfilment from
the tactile offspring of what Vaughan calls the 'fertilizing

the
event'
of
car crash.
...

Physically. this is the dented chrome and the welted flesh;


mentally, it is a mind-ftick
that heightens the desire for physicalit'-y and tangibility, whilst
giving it an erotic
rcsonancc. Hie crash produces a customized body. refigured
and given new
crogenous zones in the form of wounds and scars. If the death
pile-up becomes the
, exualized chniax. these gouges are the new 'afterplay'. which in
conjunction with
1-54
-

the foreplay of

that
ality
sexu
new
a
of
the
substance
as
act
devisingthe next crash

lives.
bodies
their
and
shapestheir
first
'the
book
his
as
Ballard
of
G.
J.
spoke
Roy Grundmann states that
Cronenberg
notes
David
(1997,24),
and
based
technology'
on
pornographicnovel
have
Writers
1997,200).
Rodley
(in
how -Thereis a desireto fusewith techno-ness'
Crash
within
film
of
by
the
version
theme
placing
continued the technology
the
impact
on
of science
Cronenberg'sacknowledgedoeuvre of chronicling the
human
fuse
'potential
to
with
Creed
the
Barbara
body.
Thus,
human
car's
of
speaks
by
become
that 'men
embodied
flesh' (1998,177),andLinda Ruth Williams assesses
human
duality
I
Whilst
fusing with their cars' (1999,45).
of car and
acknowledgea
body that plays with and extends notions of sexualized car designs and the gendering
film
is
it
by
to
that
the
their
more concerned with
owners, appears me
of vehicles
developing broader cultural debatesabout self-mutilation, body image and sexuality
than it is about issuesof technology.
My reasoning is guided by there being metaphorical rather than literal
mergers
within Crash, which differentiates it from other Cronenberg films (e.g. the human
video cassetterecorder in his 1982 film Videodrome, Brundlefly from The Fly (USA,
1986) and the talking insect typewriter of Naked Lunch (Canada/UK 1991)).
The
filin also loses the organic sexualization the
of
car portrayed in the novel. Gone are
the bodv fluids dripping from dashboardsand
mixing with engine oils, instead we
liave a colder, more stylized
and segmented display of body and machine. In
becoming a film, the car
crash has been split into an event to be (re)enacted
and a
meansot'influencing body form.
I do iiot dem- that the Ballards'
claiming Of Vaughan's written-off Lincoln
(the same model John F. Kennedy
COTIN'Crtible
was assassinatedin) is equivalent
to

155-

the claiming of Vaughan's body.27However, the merger through death seemsto be


specific to Vaughan, a man who lived in his car. Although Catherine and James
deliberately stage their own crash at the end of the film, with Jamesreassuringher
that 'Maybe [in] the next one' she will die, it is difficult to believe that her Mazda
could ever be claimed like Vaughan's Lincoln. The deathwish they shareappearsto
have another rationale, not fusion but interchangebetweenthe human body and the
car. Both are custornizable,both are fetishized, and both can be dainaged,dentedand
before
being
functional
scarred
repaired and made
once more. Through adopting a
mindset that reversesthe personification of automobiles,the human body is viewed
as an entity, which rather than being disfigured can become refigured in the same
manner a smashed Lincoln convertible has character not damage. Yet there remains

what should still be a fundamentaldifference: cars can be written-off but cannot die,
the human body must die.
Vaughan talks of his project involving a 'benevolent psychopathology' and it
appears to surmount the contradiction. He proclaims that the car crash is 'a liberation
of sexual energy mediating the sexuality of those who have died with ... an intensity
that's impossible in any other form'. To understand his assertion, we need to regard

his fatal crash as the ultimate extreme experiencefor and of the human body. Death
body
he
longer
the
pinnacle
of
modification,
was
something
or write-off. as
no
he
Consequently,
to
embraced and controlled what
wished
approach asymptotically.

flamboyantly
Westernized
be
seppukuas the meansto
cannot controlled, and chosea
death,
disembowelment,
Vaughan's
is
although
not
ritualized
achieve it.
an
lionourable and symbolic spilling of his guts: a confessionand revelation of the body
its
and control through modification.
27David Cronenberg has compared the scenewith his desire to claim Marilyn Monroe's body
after her
it
1997,200).
forward
(in
Rodley
Although an insightful
to
claim
suicide when no one came
difference
between
body
Marilyn
the
Monroe (with
the
stark
whole
of
recognize
comparison, we must
Vaughan.
damage)
that
the
represents
car
mutilated
and
no visible

156-

Western
in
place
has
it
for
special
a
though,
incidental
is
The automobile not
through
is
glorified
doomed
rebellion,
freedom
and
is
It
with
associated
society.
defined
passion
a
as
is
deaths,
famous
culturally
and
through
racesand mythologized
death
propagates
and
sex
The
of
deathtrap.
amalgamation
wagonyet also a mobile
his
project.
to
Vaughan
as
refers
that
the peculiarly eroticized environment
of
death
example
as purely another
Vaughan's,and later Catherine's,acceptanceof
the
eventuality,
of
body
control
wresting
whilst
modification,
performed
sensually
fusing
is
it
believe
with
I
not
therefore
reassertsthe car's cultural significance.
human
but
film's
theme,
an exploration of
technology or techno-nessthat orders the
body.
the
agencyand control of

Bruise Control
Watching Crash is a bruising experience. In spite of the well-documented problems
28
distribution
in
the United Kingdom, 1 am not
concerning
and the media outcry
describing any damaged sensibility on the part of spectators; rather I
refer to the
f0rinal qualities presented on the screen. A
relatively low-budget movie, location

shooting on vast highways meant a dependencyon available light, both natural


and
lighting,
sti-ect
with only foreground objects lit to blend in with the setting.

Cronenberghas describedthe visual effect 'much


as

more like found art' than the

le
stN of his previousthree films which were largely studio-based(in Rodley
1997,
192).The notion of finding is misleadingthough, for
Cronenberghas also
stressed
11ONNA11C
urbanlighting in conjunctionwith the costumes
produceda palate of 'bruise
colors- purplesand Nioletsand dark browns
and yellows
Sinith 1997.27). Thesecolours frequently

and blues and blacks' (in

smotherthe image, appearing

as mauve

Z8For
a summan, of the problems Crash faced in
the United Kingdom
see Kermode and Petley
(1997).

157-

and
smoke,
through
light
refracted
3.12),
(figure
violet
illuminated steam
and
windows
car
in
reflections

hue
grey

interiorsq
brown
blend
with
bodywork.Purple curtains

blue
tinge
A
lighting.
silver
side
orange
yellowy
and
superstructures
grey concrete
strikingly
to
appear
infrequent
red
of
uses
allowing
shots,
exterior
most
envelopes
Such
Vaughan's
car.
interior
the
of
as
lights
brake
muted
and
costumes,
and
via
bruise.
beauty
the
delicacy
of
imagery suggestsboth the
and the
three
beginning,
Its
Fhe narrative structure of Crash is equally stylized.

than
one
Cronenberg
to
more
has
on
recall,
prompted
consecutivesex scenes,
"'
is
"'A
he
plot.
a
how
not
told:
scenes
sex
test
of
series
was
screening
at a
occasion,
breaking
highlights
"'
the
Who
"'Why
of
Cronenberg's reply of
says? merely
not?
Rodley
1997,199).
(in
conventions

29

What it does not stress is how mundane sex is

in
film.
between
The
Catherine
to
the
the
opening of
inade appear
sex
and the pilot,
James
and
and the camera girl, is conveyed in both instances as remote and routine.
Fherc is no communication between participants, distractions occur (Catherine is
preoccupied by the aircraft's texture and James is interrupted), and the cold hard
metal surfaces of the wing and the camera case dissipate rather than resonate the
sexual charge derived from the semi-public locations. The sex scene between the
Ballards that follows confinns the impression,
especially through the dispassionate
questionini, of whether the women had climaxed in the earlier
sex acts. The physical
and Nerbal probing smack of a catechism enactedby longtime-lapsed believers.
On a
balcony set against the Toronto
skyline, with freeways of endless traffic below,
the

fuck.
fice of moral obligations,but
pair
seeminglybatteredinto submissionby their
pursuit of pleasure.The erotic detachednesshas

prompted critics to describe the

film", poxNeras emanatingfrom 'its


apparent coolness' (Rodley 1997,189),
its
.coldnessand artifice of style' (M. Grant 1998,180),
and its 'sombre, even pensive'
Seealso Sr"ith ( 1997.20).

158-

Crash
Figure 3.12 Bruise colour scheme of

its
of
roots
has
to
etymological
Thus,
1998,175).
returned
(Creed
passion
inanner
become
has
it
because
an
Latin
to
(from
the
suffer),
pati,
suffering
passio, meaning
balcony,
the
drifting
the
by
But
of
edge
the
over
camera's
enduranceof an obsession.
height,
jump
a
to
a
perilous
at
placed
the
when
urge
common
which plays on
danger.
is
offered, namely
tantalizing and unexpected route to satisfaction

,rhe sex scene triptych announcesthe narrative's reliance upon repetition and
life
later,
death.
The
Ballards'
lifestyle
the
mechanics
of
sex,
and
variation. stressing
is the very essenceof control, and the acting serves to heighten the impression. For
most of the film. Deborah Unger seemsdisengaged, looking off-screen, even in the
midst of passion.Dialogue is sparse,delivered staccato fashion, and perpetuates the
trait of inquiry. Denied conventional character identification and development, 'the
sex scenesare absohaely the plot and the character development' (David Cronenberg
Rodley
1997,199). That the other sex scenes in the film
iii
are predicated on
retigurement makesbody modification key.

159-

Wounds of Love
Wounds, and in particular, scars,dominate Crash. Some are temporary bruises, but
healing,
in
folds
the
many are
nodular
of compactedcicatrized tissue that, spite of
suggest restriction and deformity. These body marks bring with them particular
cultural connotations. The scar has traditionally been associated with pirates, thieves
history,
has
been
the
throughout
with
and villains, and
notion
perpetuated
cinematic
the titular protagonist of Scarface (Howard Hawks, USA, 1932) and Chief Scar in
The Searchers (John Ford, USA, 1956) being two explicitly

named examples.

However,, a few films tangentially addressthe erotic resonance of the scar.


Circus of Horrors (Sidney Hayers, UK, 1960) depicts a plastic surgeon hiding
from the police after an operation has gone wrong. Using a circus as a cover to
his
disfigured
him
he
to
enable
continue
experiments,
successfully operates on
he
in
in
Temple
the
the
of
circus,
most
notably
women, whom
subsequently uses
Beauty. What is of interest in the context of Crash, is how mesmerized and
is
faces.
he
by
In
the
one notable scene, raises
surgeon
scarred
seemingly enraptured
beauty,
but
he
is
face
if
her
actually admiring
a child's
as studying a great
scar. After
the operation, the removal of the girl's dressing is equally eroticized, with the
bandages'.
her
'feel
the
the
to
scissors cutting away
surgeon encouraging
She Freak (Byron Mabe, USA, 1967) also objectifies the scarred body in a

kills
Freaks,
In
the
central character
a carnival
sensualmanner. a partial remake of
dwarf, and is then mutilated by other members of the troupe to make her into a
her
As
her
to
the
the
with
story,
we
witness
one
climax
side of
sideshow exhibit.
body heavily scarred, including an eye gouged out, whilst the other side remains as

the 'pretty young girl' she was declared to be at the beginning of the film. The
in
image.
beauty
dichotomy
this
and scarring is condensed
of
supposed
One mainstreamfilm that doesexplicitly mention the scarredbody and eroticism
-160-

to
to
comedy
it
but
resorts
1989)'
USA,
Gilbert,
(Lewis
Valentine
Shirley
is
is
Collins)
(Pauline
Shirley
date,
the
eponymous
a
Having
it.
on
denounce
goneout
'YOU
Shirley exclaims,
Conti).
(Tom
Greek
her
companion
waiter
romping with
her
scars,
of
lengthy
celebration
a
The
'
with
waiter replies
kissedrn,stretchmarks!
that
you
alive,
that
are
you
These
marks show ...
finally declaring: 'Be proud....
Valentine
Shirley
'
life.
the
lines,
of
hide
they
marks
are
these
Don't
try to
survived.
full
'Aren't
by
men
his
stating,
turnsto the cameraand pointedly undercuts remarks
be
existence,
of
Valentine,
a
confirmation
'
Shirley
as
In
seen
scarscan never
of shit.
life,
in
pleasure.
from
erotic
of
source
a
or
moment
a particularly memorable
a mark
But that is exactly how they can function for devotees of tattoos, piercings and
in
is
defined
Crash.
it
how
they
are
cicatrization, and

to understandthe correlationbetweenthe refigurementsin Crash and the body


it
is beneficial to note a primary
adornment practices of contemporary culture,
discourse surrounding body modification. Michel Foucault states that 'The classical
discovered
the body as object and target of power' (1991, 136). He highlights
age
Ilow a range ot'disciplinary powers began to act on the body,
such as architectural
space,timekeeping and coding of activities to create a disciplined or 'docile body':
one 'that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved' (1991,136).

The

discourseof disciplining the body has


proliferated in modem society to the extent
that it has becomesuch platitudes as 'you are
what you eat' and 6no pain, no gain'.
Many participants have seen body
modification as a denouncement of the docility
and a repossessingof the body. Raelyn Gallina
expressesthis idea:
Fo ask to be cut (not
in a violent situation, but in a loving,
supportive,
trusting situation) and then bleed
and then end up with something beautiful
it heals and you have it
then
and
...
and you're proud of it that
be
can
very
empoNvering.It can be a reclaiming for lot
a
of people. (In Juno 1989a, 105)
it lias also beenargued that
the very permanency

-161 -

of the decoration, and the

enduring

indicates
commitment
a
process,
is
painful
a
of what often

David
Thus,
body.
the
to

but
for
just
myself
not
done
have
something
to
curry states:'I was also pleased
of
high-lighting
is
their
beliefs
both
What
unites
(1993,73).
body'
for
my
specifically
the corporealasan entity.
in
other
any
would
piercing
and
scarification
of
the
Moreover. results
have
I
noted,
Indeed,
already
as
wounds.

be
setting

frequently
associated
they
are
in the media

However, such a view


1999).
Pitts
(see
with self-mutilation

disregards
completely

beyond
"addictive",
'is
hidden,
and
is
latter
usually
non-decorative,
the fact that the
body
modification.
of
the
2000,249):
opposite
(Benson
very
the
self
the control of
the
but
reverses
discourse,
consciously
Crash interprets this pathologizing
where
its
from
environment,
is
medicalized
The
removed
wound
relationship.
deliberate cutting is socially

injuries
instead,
the
treated;
are
wounds
and
sanctioned

is
Ballard
James
hospital
Even
the
body
desired,
adornments.
craved even, as
are
lies
for
it
is
hospital:
air-crash victims, which
a ward reserved
taken to is not a 'real'
do
disaster.
We
not see any emergency personnel, only
iii a vacuousstate awaiting a
Vaughan. disguised in a white coat and impersonating a hospital photographer. His
is
it
is
lustful
look of a
the
the
authorized medical examination;
inquiring gaze not
in
But
the
scars Crash operate as more than just images for voyeuristic
Noveur.
pleasure.as a study of Ballard's injuries will reveal.

JainesBallard's crash into Dr Remington's car works as an abrupt


and halfThe
olwiccd
discovery
epiphany:
a
realization
is
not
a
conversion.
the corporeal
t,
body. its tangibility, and its facility to be
modified through death and impact.

Dispciisinowith cinematicconventions,the crash like


all those depictedin the film
is unspectacular.Insteadof explosions.cars rolling and slow-motion
replays, the
vchiclescometo an immediatestop as their fendersbend
and their bonnets

buckle.

Hiroughthe car craslibeingdownplayed,the


emphasisis firmly on the impact on the
162-

humans.
hand
its
on
the
weal
of
close-up
fragility,
a
wh"st
body
limply.
oozes
Hanging
a
body
the
of
The
insignia.
refigurement
bonnet's
is diegetically matched with the car
badge
be
worn
to
a
iconic
ability
the
scar's
is
in a beautiful way suggested,as well as
free
to
30 Cutting to Ballard's point of view, Dr Remington struggles
with pride.
her
across
mark
breast
her
scarlet
a
and
herself. and jerks open her blouse, exposing
guitar
metallic
to
slow
As
belt.
struggle,
her
by
continues
she
safety
neck caused
fixated
Ballard
reveals
angle
camera
of
change
the
a
and
soundtrack,
chords puncture
hy the scenebefore him.
The music bridges a cut to the next scenewhere we see an extreme close-up of a
3.13).
(figure
in
limb
heavily bruised and gashed
encased surgical steel scaffolding
As montagetheory has shown, juxtapositions of images can create various emotions,
depending upon the relationship of the shots. From a scene containing the eroticism
bare
breast,
have
I'
the
we
cut to the exhibition of the wound, and in the process,
o
have carried someof the sensualitywith it.
The camera slowly moves up the limb, and the extent of the control
exerted on
the leg is thrust upon the spectator.The angular cage-like structure clashes with the
t1csIiN.hairy leo. enforcing rigidity and disclosing its imposition through the
stigmata
around each pin that punctures the limb. These graphic zones are testament to the
body's resistanceto the control. Concurrently, the
contraption, combining rope and
polished metal. evokes a BDSMer's plaything; the sentiment is
reinforced two shots
later NN
lien it is shown to be holding Ballard's leg in
the air (figure 3.14). This
mediuni Iong,shot of Ballard in bed his leg hoisted
his
up
and
I,
open robe divulging
30Fashion
model PadmaLakshmi hasexperiencedvery
similar
in
sentiments
respectof the seven-inch
scaron her arin that shereceivedin a car crash.She
proclaims that 'I
knew my scar
ofniv survival' (Lakshmi 2001.55), but havinCF
was a symbol
...
undergone
painful
dermabrasion
chemical
dark
the
to reduce
pigmentof her scartissue.the photographerHelmut
Newton is said to have
niodel, 'You*\ e ruined the beaut-of it' (in Lakshmi 2001,57).
shrieked at the

163-

Figure 3.13 Rigid containment of the wound in Crash

his torso down to his thigh, has a similar impure overtone to that of a photograph by
Romain Slocombe (figure 3.15). Both images coalesce, and some would argue clash,
bodily
injuries
sexuality with apparent
An obvious difference between the two images, besides the media, is that
Slocombe's photograph depicts a woman. Rosemarie Garland Thomson states that,
'If the male gaze infonns the normative female self as a sexual spectacle, then the
disabled
the
stare sculpts
subject as a grotesque spectacle' (1997,285). Evidently, the
beautified woman in Slocombe's photograph is not portrayed as grotesque or
is
in
image
The
the
monstrous.
situation even more pronounced
of James Ballard. As
form
body,
it
is
legitimate
he
that
shows some
of scarring; indeed, scars can
a male
for
fundamental
be
But
handsomeness
is
even
ruggedness.
craggy
regarded as
typically based upon scarring acquired during a mysterious past, not through recent
31
damage, so Ballard represents something else. Essentially, both Ballard and
-1 The one exception to traditional scarring in films is the bullet wound. These
recent breaks in the
skin have been fetishized in many westerns,especially through the tending of the injury by a woman.
But the bullet wound, even in contemporary cinema, tends to be eroticized discretely, for when desire
for
laughs,
in
is
The
fetishism
WholeNine Yards (JonathanLynn, USA,
the
as
played
is made explicit,
2000).

164-

Crash
in
Ballard
James
(1)
Figure 3.14 Sexualized spectacle of pain
-

Figure 3.15 Sexualized spectacle of pain (11) Yuka


her
bed
on
with orthopaedic
collar and bandages(1994) by Romain Slocombe

165-

Slocombe'smodeloffer

because
but
in
of,
spite
not
that
exists
a sexualizedspectacle

is enhancedand
the
images,
semi-nakedness
both
In
disability.
of the senseof
legs
and
the
subjects'
of
the
positioning
through
by
enacted
vulnerability
a
eroticized
them.
injuries
that
restrain
the

body
that
is
is
it
is
male
that
a
Ballard
James
What is significant in the caseof
the
in
of
has
respect
Dyer
Richard
written
incapacitated.
being
sexualizedwhilst
or
action,
in
an
the
of
is
middle
image
caught
the
'the
one
man
of
male pin-up that
involved
If
(1982,67).
not
in
images
activity'
the
with
pictures,
through
associated,
Unlike
the
in an activity, it is implied by a taut physique,muscularity and straining.
is
but
these,
Ballard
of
in
none
discussed
exhibits
the
chapter,
previous
torturedmale
lying
for
blamed
be
he
(How
his
because
can
passivity.
of
acceptablyobjectified
injured?
)
Furthermore,
is
he
the
bared
his
scarswork as an
there with
when
chest
inverseof the muscularity: where one implies hardnessand impenetrability, the other
implies softness and penetrability

is
Ballard
injuries,
his
be
by
the shot
sexualized
via
as
can
noted
Simultaneously.
body
being
bracketed
by
two overtly sexual images. Firstly, there is a
ot'his whole
jagged
close-up of a
scar, bruising on soft flesh, and downy hair. The extreme
denies
closeness
us knowledge of which part of the body it is, and a pulse in the top
Ict't-liand comer generatesa sensualthrobbing. Having just
seen a leg in close-up, a
natural conclusion is that this is a groin; but after holding the shot for 2 V2
seconds,
dic carneraslowl-pans up the neck to the face to
reveal staring eyes and a stitchedtip nose. The other bracketing shot is an overhead
Ballard's
bruised face and
of
bare
scarred
cliest. The spectator's eye is drawn to his blackened
orbs, then across his
liair- cliest to a bald areajust below his bared
left nipple. The
emphasis on the left

bi-cast.with scarring above. links Ballard back


to the sexualized image
of Helen
Renlingtonin tile crashed
car. What is more, the very nature
of a nipple, with its
166-

it
to
links
scar.
a
skin,
darkened
engorged
areolaof

is
therefore
flesh
The cicatrized

in
pain.
incorporating
pleasure
a
thus
visually
eroticizedandaestheticized,
is
Ballard
that
knowledge
by
the
be
greatly undermined
The erotic tone could
defined
conventional
a
is
as
location
not
the
discussed,
but
as already
injured,
lucid,
be
to
is
Ballard
shown
the
progresses,
Furthen-nore,
scene
as
therapeuticspace.
film
about
that
is
It
a
by
striking
in
events.
traumatized
without pain, and no sense
as
well
as
pain
of
the
injury,
body
emotion
from
withholds
sexual gratification
through
audience
pain
the
of
Of
sensation
the
expresses
narrative
course,
pleasure.
is
to
but
seen
bruise
character
central
no
scar,
a
or
a
expectationson seeing
experiencethem as pain.
The extent that this deviates from an actual trauma is revealed by noting a
R.
Norrnan
in
impact
description
the
appearance.
of a sudden change
of
medical
Bernstein states of bums patients that, 'The person experiences life-endangering
in
hospital
busy
intensive
He/she
agony a
emergency ward, a
medical
care setting.
horrifying
suffers

agony, isolation, confusion, manipulation,

and multiple

incomprelleiisible procedures' (1990,137). Ballard's situation is the antithesis of


Bernstein's description, for there is no medical invasion
his
of
space. In sharp
contrastto the control exerted over his leg by the metal frame, there is no impression
that Ballard as a whole is under anyone's control except his own. Indeed,
subjection
feature
is not a
of Crash. rather the converse is. In an existentialist way, Catherine
arid JarricsBallard xvill embracethe fact that they are condemned to be freeg
and the
car crash. Nvithits refigurement process and potential for death,
will assert it. At this
iiioniciit U1the film. that notion of control is just beginning
to grow, but all Ballard
ricedsto take hini one stagefiniher is the catalyst Vaughan.
of

167-

32Dressedin an
the
ward.
hallway
near
in
Vaughan
a
Ballard first encounters
Ballard
looks
Vaughan
is
person.
he
medical
a
believes
Ballard
coat,
white
officious
his
pockmarks
that
stresses
Vaughan
of
view
to
side
a
cuts
the
down.
shot
and
up and
Vaughan
closely,
Ballard
more
down
to
examine
Crouching
facial
deep
scar.
a
and
heated
salivating.
suggests
his
leg;
chewing
constant
Ballard's
touchesthe clampson
Ballard's
affirmative
Through
'
'Crash
victim?
Vaughan
asks:
Without looking up,
brought
is
he
a
under
rcsponse.

than
victim
However,
rather
taxonomy.
medical

of
the
concept
it
contains
has
also
suffered,
who
someone
merely conveying
enhanced
veneration
the
of
reading
with
is
offering,
ritualistic
a
of
part
who
someone
is
Ballard
of
Blatantly,
object
feet.
an
Ballard's
knees
his
being
at
hy Vaughan
on
injuries
inspect
the
to
from
Vaughan
continuing
desire, and the pleasure
experiences
from
hand
his
his
breath
of
intake
his
restraining
by
conscious
and
of
is shown
touching more of the leg.
Standing up, Vaughan emphasizesthe various sensual pleasures of the wounds
by seemingly sniffing and scrutinizing the scarson Ballard's face. Accepting the role
is
Ballard
body
his
docile
to
the
that
the
gaze,
apparently
exposed
medical
reveals
of
invites
kind
Performing
more examination.
chest and
a
of courtship ritual, Vaughan
hands
Ballard's
mark out the territory of refigurement. The eroticism of the
ind
disguised
by the latent presence of homoeroticism; however, the
,Aounds is partly

implication is that the men have made a discovery of a shareddesire that exceeds
conventionalsexualities.
For Ballard. and the audience,it is the beginning
of a realization of the pleasures

availablcwithin the dynamicsof control of both the body image and another
person's
The primar-importanceof the sceneis Ballard
encounteringVaughan,but we should recognize that
it ii, precededby Ballard and Remingtonalso bumping into eachother. As
the fihn's style of
part
of
repetitionand %ariation. both sequencesemploN,limited dialogue,
begins with an inquiry
which
of
name.ha-echaracterstradincystares,draw attentionto injuries,
have emotions running high. But
and
whiI st the former is iggressixe and suppressesknowledge,Vaughan's inspection
Ballard is lustful
of
indrcN-elator.

-168-

body. Only partially aware of it, Ballard has been party to a game of doctors and
inquiring
nurses: a pseudo-domination pursuit complete with masterful eyes and

hands.The spectatorhas witnesseda delight in what Richard Kern in his introduction


to Romain Slocombe's book City of the Broken Dolls: A Medical Art Diary, Tokyo
1993-1996 called a 'trauma history' (1997, unnumbered). Acting as a physiognomic
biography, the scar indicates body experience and mystery. But a scar is more than a
it
it
bleeds,
it
has
from
initial
thus,
the
scabs,
memory,
a metamorphic property;
gash,
it weeps, and eventually heals and begins to fade. On leaving hospital, Ballard
demonstratesthe pleasures of this healing process.
During his time in hospital, the changes to the marks on Ballard's body operate
leg
The
time.
as a progression of
successive scenesshow gradually reduced swelling,
hoists removed, and stitches gone. But the transient quality of the wound is
foregrounded on Ballard's return home. Cutting from a shot of Ballard in a taxi, we
high
freeway
busy
(figure
3.16).
The
traffic
overhead of a
with moving
shot
view a
leg
Catherine
it.
Ballard's
The
to
copiously scarred
as
cuts again
a pan of
caresses
dominant
flow
diagonal
the
the
camera reverses
of the traffic, whilst
movement of
Ballard's leg, on a similar alignment to the freeway, takes on the perspective of
landscape, the numerous scars functioning as cars (figure 3.17). The implication,
besides reminding the spectator of the part played by cars in creating the wounds, is
leg
Catherine's
the
stroking of
reinforces our
organic change or progress.
for
in
its
her
hand
improvement
is
longer
the
condition,
no
understanding of
by
doing
Vaughan's
from
(in
the metal cage.
the
was)
way
prevented
so
The handling of the wound is vital for the spectacle of pleasure. Catherine's hand

touchesthe gashesas a meansof coming to terms with the damage,but in addition,


to somehow feel the hurt. She fingers each lump in an assessment of pain and

darnage.The willing of pain could be called an empathetic stance,but there is an


169-

Figure 3.16 Freeway of cars in Crash

Figure 3.17 Leg of scars in Crash

feels.
it
Although
know
how
based
touching
to
additional component
upon needing
the area of damage, Catherine is still isolated from the pain. An analogous
felt
by
is
further
but
the spectator who, positioned as
experience,
removed,
one step
But
I
has
the
to
pain.
as stressed earlier, pain
voyeur.
attempt a comprehension of
it
in
in
is
Crash.
to
itself never explicitly expressed
is only alluded
moments such as

170-

left
bruise
later
in
film
fingers
Ballard
lays
his
this, and
the
over the palm-print
when
Catherine's
inner thigh following violent sex with Vaughan. The controlled
on
to
Ballards'
by
is
the
therefore
a yearning
severity of
relationship
replaced
detached
body
film's
icily
tone
in
different
But
the
experience each other's
ways.
forcefulness
injuries.
Consequently
the
tension
the
the
remains, provoking a
with
of
scenetingles and throbs via the sensual touching of the wound.
Besides comprehension of pain, the scene hints at the pleasures of caring.
Although having the potential for gratification through domination, here I refer to the
joy of caring for the wound. Tattooees and piercees have spoken of the enjoyment of
the healing process (Sweetman 1999a, 170). An element of the satisfaction is a
body
its
An
the
the
additional
acknowledgement of
and
physicality.
continuation of
factor is the immediate rush of endorphins that can mask the pain after body
is
from
derived
And
ensuring satisfactory
another pleasure
modification practices.
healing of the final refigurement. In effect, the caring is part of the creation process.

It is noticeabletoo that when Catherineleaves for work, it is the scar on Ballard's


forehead that she kisses, rather than his lips. Part care, part fetishistic attraction, her
for
but
involuntary
Showing
be
people.
one
many
affection
action would
a natural
towards the surface site of pain can evidently be pleasurable and compelling.
However, Catherine's tenderness does not stretch to the spectator seeing the
33
dressing of wounds or the gentle bathing of scars. Consequently, fascination rather
than caring is projected as her main motivation, in particular, her pursuit of Ballard's
into
her
hard
digs
Catherine
At
thumbnail
the vulnerable. soft
sensations. one point,
flesli of Ballard's smashed-up appendage. There is no malice, just a desire to feel a

TheNight Porter, which is more concernedwith oscillations of pain and pleasurevia power
relations,doescombine tending and desire. For example, Max usesa pair of forceps and a swab of
cotton wool to hvilienicalk, dab Lucia's cut arm, before grasping her limb and kissing the wound. In a
later scene.Lucia washesMax's foot with the hand he had cut by stamping upon it amidst a pile of
broken lass.
-,

171
-

hand
her
ball
Catherine's
immediate
of
sensation.
smoothing of the area with the
impression
through
hers
is
for
the
that
tangibility
supports
and experience
a quest

the
to
hints
domination.
Further,
the
pain, not sadistic
at a marked contrast
scene
blandnessof the sex scenesthat openedthe film. The wounds are erotic, physical and
They
intensity
from
traumatic
that
their
creation.
encapsulation of a
seeps
contain an
liquid
interior
is
that
a
warm
suggest
alive and tingling with agitated pain receptors
by
fill
The
bodily
is
beginning
the
the
to
void created
presence of
scar
and neurons.
the lack of emotional release in sex.
The extreme pleasure of wounds makes them not only enjoyable but their
hospital
desirable.
in
film,
Later
Vaughan
Ballard
to talk
the
the
to
acquisition
calls
to him 'about the project'. Lying in a mauve operating chair, Vaughan is having a
life-size tattoo of a Lincoln steering wheel etched on his scarred chest. This
culturally

(in
and
acceptable
comparison with
prevalent

scarification)
34

blatantly
being
linked
is
Vaughan's
to
the
nature of
project .
modification

body

The tattoo

is a medical one, making it limited in colour and virtually schematic, but it still
beauty
but
it
body,
(make
the
embellishes
not with
with significance
ragged and
dirty'). With the image pre-empting the planned penetration of his body by an actual
is
it
his
fatal
in
Vaughan
'prophetic
to
tattoo'.
call
a
steering wheel
correct
crash,
Further, by overlaying existing scars, Vaughan claims back his body whilst
destiny.
Vaughan's
defining
its
Thus,
tattoo serves not merely as a
simultaneously
body adornment but as a rite of passage: it is the prelude to the ultimate body
Ballard
Vaughan's
death.
its
to
relationship
with
modification of
reach
and prompts
sexual conclusion.
For this to take place, Ballard has to receive a reciprocal mark: a Lincoln car
34David Cronenberghas acknowledged that this scenerefers to current debatesin society regarding
I
bodv piercim, and self-mutilation, and stressesthat it was his idea to incorporate into the script the
tattooing of a steerinc,wheel on Vau-han's body (in Rodley 1997,200).

172
-

35
Dom
have
the
spoken of
emblem tattooed on his inner thigh. BDSM practitioners
36
having the Sub pierced or marked in some way to denote ownership, whilst
bonds
have
have
described
how
with
tattooees
their marks
acted as
piercees and
loved ones (Sweetman 1999a, 171-2; Juno and Vale 1989,165). Ballard's tattoo is
both a type of branding that indicates Vaughan's claim over his body, and a visible
love
in
is,
but
heightened
by
the
the vulnerable context of
way a wedding ring
gift of

37
body modification. In effect, it is a bond that both restrainsand unites.
However, although David Curry has found that there is 'some overlap between
have
have
body
for
decorative
them
those
who
piercings
purposes and
people who
for sado-masochistic purposes' (1993,78),

he asserts that they 'are generally

different
in
different
felt
be
to
circumstances and are
engaged in separately,
by
the same person' (1993,78). In other words, one
activities, even when engaged in
is undergone as a sexual activity involving pain and domination; the other can have
is
based
dimension,
but
delayed
display
an erotic
usually
upon a
and/or stimulation
distorts
Crash
of erogenous zones.
and conflates the two into a sexualized
by
refigurement
making the modification

sites supplementary or alternative

erogenouszones.
Cutting from Ballard agreeing to the tattoo, we next see a close-up of Vaughan
delicately removing the wadding that protects the wound. Replicating Catherine's
tenderness.Vaughan easesthe surgical tape from the hairs on the leg and unveils the
fresh tattoo, complete with bruising (a marked contrast to Tattoo). The scene
I15The film does
it
decides
location
Vaughan
the
that
of the tattoo, for Ballard's
not make explicit
question of 'Where do you think that one should go? ' is only answered by the downward glance of the
tattooist. However, I am in no doubt that the implication is that he has told the tattooist where the
desl,,n will be, and this reading is enhanced by the published script, in which Vaughan grabs the
inside of his thigh to locate the region.

'6AIthough it has traditionally beenthe casethat the Dom (or top) was not marked. ShereeRose has
has
body
statedthat the groxN-th
prompted many to also be pierced or
of
modification as a subculture
markedin some way (in Juno 1989b, 109). The shift has been utilized to create an alternative ending
to that of the novel for Just Jaeckin's film version of Histoire d'O'The Stolvof 0.
3 \N'c
37
saN%a similar scenario in Bob & Sheree's Conti-act when Shereecarved her initial on Bob's
bod).

173
-

the
Ballard's
of
build
by
gentle caressing
continuesto
on past images: reformulating
bruises on Catherine's inner thigh, the three characters are now linked via the
body
scars.
essenceof
lustful
in
Vaughan breathes heavily and proceeds to mouth the virgin sore
a
is
Vaughan
therefore
foreplay
The
tattoo
to
the
the
of
of
attraction
wound.
sexual
different to that experienced by Karl in Tattoo. For Vaughan, the tattoo is a

He
the
impact
deteriorate
lesion,
its
time.
values
over
which means
will
controlled
design
the
its
healed,
on
tattoo as a susceptible gash, once
a
as
existence
superficial
bond.
Vaughan's
deny
it
its
approach
most of
value, except as a symbolic
skin will
involves a mastering of the corporeal; it is about sculpting, transforming, penetrating
in
is
body.
Where
tattoo
the
the
society traditionally the expression of
and resealing
the self via the body, Vaughan's project is loaded with the desire to express the body
have
is
fixture,
I
its
And
the
tattoo
a quality
a permanent
refigurement.
whereas
and
in
is
highly
important
devotees,
Crash
that
to
the
wounds
are
already noted
fundamentally metamorphic and active through their healing. It is true that tattoos
blurring,
inks
darkening
it
is
the
the
thus
change as
age,
and
and
skin and
also true
that the scars in Crash will never totally disappear, but like piercings, these wounds
kept
will seal unless
open.
The bonded scar is still important as a memory and a record, as well as a tactile
body,
but
it
is
human
the sensitive new sore that
that
the
protuberance
shapes
it
is
In
this
the
contains
strongly associated with
respect
greatest erotic charge.
BDSM, for on a continuum with a BDSM ritualized cutting of the skin at one end

injuries
in
body
Crash
healed
the
the
anda perfectly
at
other,
piercing
new
would be
is
former.
However.
to
the
the
closer
as much mental as physical. No
refigurement

longer are scars and wounds to be avoided at all cost, they are sought out. The
lieightenedsensationsof the wound cannot be called pain, yet offer an exquisite pain
-174-

that is craved.
When Vaughan rhapsodizes about the liberation of sexual energy through car

he
is
crashes,
articulating a variation on the theme of the adrenalin rush of extreme
but
founded
but
in
5),
I
Chapter
(of
on risk,
now not
which will say more
sports
by
longer
dependentupon plannedfailure. Indeed,risk is no
a valid term, as revealed
Catherine's unconvincing attempt to draw sexual excitement from the fact that
'Anyone could have walked in' whilst she was having sex with the pilot in the
danger
ineffectual
So
as an enhancement of sexual release,
with
opening scene.

demanded.
actualsensationsare
What therefore takes place between Vaughan and Ballard via the baring of the
intimate and damaged regions of their bodies is a consummation of their respective
tattoos. As wounds, they provide a bridge between the mortal and living body;
through being self-inflicted, they demonstrate control over the corporeal body. As
function
loci
dramatic
impression
they
sensations, an
primary signs of pain,
as
of
formed by their redness, and accentuated by the knowledge of the scar's ability to
fundamentally change the shape of the human body. But in union with these vibrant,
tangible properties is the erotic effect of coding the swelling, the gash, and the
is
The
this
refigurement as an additional erogenous zone.
product of
a potential to

boundaries.
unsettlegender

Sexuality Amidst
interests youT

Refigurement:

'Is

there

something

here that

Far more than Boxing Helena, Crash, with its sex scenes involving refigured crash

survivors. flirts with the taboo of the sexuality of the disabled. The urge to see yet
not seedrives the fascination of the spectacleof pain, and permeatesthe accident site
and the compulsion to stare at the disabled. Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) forces
175-

fetishwear
boots,
black
home this equationat the car showroom.Wearing
a miniskirt,
jacket with zips, black fishnet hose,and rigid callipers, shedrapesherself over a softon
deliberately
scar
forcing
her
Mercedes,
to
vagina-like
to
top
reveal a
skirt ride up
the back of her thigh (figure 3.18). A young salesmanhurries over, and then slows as
he seesher disability. Through crosscuttingbetweenhim and a shot that is a close-up
Speaking
legs.
her
down
hesitantly
his
his
at
glance
eyes
point of view, we watch
of
he
his
blatantly
but
Gabrielle,
thought
to
process, asks,
and the spectator's
expressing
'Is there something here that interests youT The close-up has already compelled the
feelings
look,
their
the
to
the
and
to
audience assess
now
question requests
audience
it
finding
be
I
Should
be
looking
I
at this?
confront their own voyeurism: should
her
disabled?
Gabrielle
Isn't
this
responds with a sultry glance over
person
erotic?
deliberately
Intimidated,
the salesman's
the
the
withholding
wound.
shot
shoulder;
furtive avoidance of her gaze merely takes his eyes back to the off-screen gash. The
is
left
is
left
the
spectator
unfulfilled.
embarrassed;
salesman
It should be noted that Rosanna Arquette as Gabrielle is exaggeratedly attractive,
because
her
because
is
but
bondage-style
least
Hollywood
actress,
also
of
not
she a
bright
lipstick.
intersection
disability
blonde
hair
The
costume,
and
red
of
and
beauty
For
David
Cronenberg,
the
tension.
the use of 'attractive
explicit
emboldens
people' in the film makes it more pornographic than the novel (in Smith 1997,1920). The BBFC deem it significant too. In a statement that reeks of prejudice, and is
given authority via the comments being attributed to a forensic psychologist, the
BBFC declares that no known sexual fetish is shown in Crash and 'Nor is the sex
scene Nvith a woman in callipers fetishistic, since she is shown to be sexually

attractive despite her scars or limb supports and not becauseof them' (in Poulter

176-

Figure 3.18 Confronting disability and sexuality in Crash

1997,6).

38

The logic demonstrated here is that attractive people cannot be fetishized

be
disabilities
attractive unless you can
cannot
and conversely, people with
disembody them from their disabilities. Such an opinion is both reactionary and
offensive.
For me, although Crash skirts around the issue of equating disability with
important,
is
disfigurement
it
that
which
and/or
ugliness, says something equally
beauty
in
Western
Drawing
to
society.
refigurement are usually opposed
on work by
Fred Davis, Rosemarie Garland Thomson tells how a female wheelchair user, whom
beautiful,
found
her
if
'people
that
to
she statesis recognized as
often respond
as this
lamentable
traits
combination of
contradiction' (1997,285).
were a remarkable and
Gabrielle's body brace, her moulded walking stick, and her limp when walking all
define her as disabled. and apply a comparable sentiment to the scene, with the
salesmanembodying lust and discomfort. Although saturated with negativity towards
the disability. the scene does ftame its debate not in terms of people with disabilities
38The forensic psychologgist,Dr Paul Britton later claimed the BBFC misrepresentedhim (see
Kermodeand Petley 1997,18), but my point remains, as the statementwas issued with the intention
of.justifyin. the releaseof Crash.

177-

being physically challenged,but being challengingthrough their physicality.


Witkin
Joel-Peter
in
featured
Jacqueline Tellalian, the disabled model
the
included
figure
3.11)
(see
in
this
makes a pertinent point:
photograph
earlier
chapter
it
if
is
beauty
levels,
deformity,
to
not
as
'There a
to
see
allow
yourself
you
on some

is
knowing
deforyned
but
different,
that
not everybody perfectly
and
necessarily
Crucially,
1998).
(in
Vile
Bodies,
'Naked',
the
television
programme
proportioned'
incorporating body modification into the discourse encourages such a discovery.

Crash eroticizes this asexual,but highly sexual difference. Gabrielle's black cane,
butt
distinctiveness
is
the
of
plug-handle evidenceof
erotic
with rubberized,nodular
her body. Unlike the Mercedes,which is describedas 'designed for a normal body',
the walking aid, seen in close-up between Gabrielle's legs, then twisted and
in
hands,
the
examined
salesman's
sets her apart from the mundane norm. The scene
in
visualizes, a sexual environment, the politically correct appellation applied to the
disabled: special people. The walking stick is working as the reverse of its usual
symbolic function, for as stated by Adrienne Asch and Michelle Fine about a woman
with disabilities, 'The very devices she values for enhancing free movement and
communication (braces, crutches, hearing aids, or canes) may repel men seeking the
tantasied flawlessness' (1988,244). Rather than being the object of the uninvited

disgust,
Gabrielle is the director of the inquisitive imagination: 'I wonder iff
stareof
and 'I wonder howT In contrast to Vaughan's inspection of Ballard at the hospital,
the object of the gaze is completely aware and in control.
Wien Gabrielle snags her leg brace on the leather interior, she plays the helpless
iiivalid and requests assistance to get into the car. Her gaping crotch and thigh is
a

mass of fishnet. rivets, leather ties and supports. Wavering between the cultural
taboosof touching a woman in such an intimate place, and not assisting someone
witli disabilities, the salesman turns around for advice, but none is forthcoming.

178-

leg
Gabrielle's
flesh
brace
the
of
Hesitantly, he edgeshis hand along the
and grasps
femoral
into
digging
muscle,
the
fingers
his
before yanking it. A closer shot shows
bruised
Catherine's
to
transaction
the
the
corporeality, and connecting
emphasizing
thigh in the precedingscene.
is
disabilities
The oblique confrontation of the sexuality of people with
Gabrielle
issue
in
though,
general
to
more
a
with
relation
an
essentially only
forming
of
the
to
superstructure
sexuality, refigurement and corporeality
approach

Crash. Within the car showroom scene, facets of the broader picture are also on
display, including a prevailing demonstration of the BDSM power dynamics and the
Gabrielle
Passively
taking
the
savours
charge,
salesman
awaiting
pleasure of control.
his rough manhandling. The physical exertion on her limp body is a delight for her,
but
by
deception
is
her
the
the
also
emphatic role-play of
enhanced
enjoyment
and
39
being helpless. As with all BDSM submissives, she is in total charge of the scene.
Tom Shakespeare,in his study of sexuality and people with disabilities, states
that 'Because people were not able to make love in a straightforward manner, or in a
impelled
to experiment and enjoyed a more
they
were
conventional position,
for
The
life
(1996,209).
quest
a more exciting sexual
as a result'
interesting sexual

factor
for
Ballards,
is
the
and their modus
existence undeniably a motivating
body
Thus,
Crash
is
the
the
via refigurement.
visualizes a
operandi
control of

body
form.
human
body
What this
the
the
rethinking of
via a modification of
sexual
tacilitates is the potential for a resistance to sexual polemics, with gender and sexual
differences being contracted into a corporeal body.

If we examinethe use of scarsand refigurement in sexual encounters,we find a


positive displacement from gendered erogenous zones onto asexual wounds. For
39The
salesman'signorance of events necessitatesme to stressthis is not BDSM, only a sexual scene
of control that borrows elementsof its composition from the reciprocal sexual practice. However, like
the films discussedin the previous chapter, the sceneis imbued with sexual control that enablesa
BDSM readimy,
I

179-

to
Remington
offer
Helen
and
breasts,
both
Catherine
reveal
and
example,
which
the
The
nipple
of
by
skin
raised
their sexual partners,are usurped the scarredchest.
both
is
in
that
him
by
first
is
Catherine
Vaughan
twisted
action
an
that
presentsto
deeply
by
Vaughan's
textural and refiguring (engorgement), and then replaced
The
Catherine
scar
of
synthesis
suckles.
and
uncovers
scarredpectoral region which
battered
Catherine's
James
for
is
bi-directional
to
tends
though,
when
and nipple
body in the next scene, he kisses her graphically bruised nipple as well as another
These
lips.
her
its
equally swollen
raised surface,
erogenous zone that trades on

focus
have
become
the
that
sensitivity
coalesce
refigurement
areas
of
of
erotic
points
flesh
is
The
tender
tingling
the
saturated
raw,
of wounds.
of sexual stimulation with
is
The
scar therefore a pleasure that enhances or substitutes
with emotional vibrancy.
for existing erogenous zones, but is not limited by gender boundaries. Thus, after

Vaughanhas kissedJames'stattoo, Jamesis taken to the crashco-ordinator's scarred


breast,just as his wife had beenbefore him.
James Myers's study of non-mainstream body modification reveals that: 'Sexual
enhancementproved to be one of the most compelling reasons behind people's desire
to alter their bodies' (1992,288). Furthennore, Paul Sweetman found 'that certain
piercings can lead to the "creation" or "re-discovery" of previously unexplored areas
of erotogenic sensitivity' (1999a, 176). Similarly, in Crash the sexual body is
remapped, with bisexuality emerging from the scar and the gash. Vaughan and
James's sexual liaison in the front seat of the Lincoln develops from the foreplay of
the chest scar to the fellatio of the thigh tattoo. The penetrating penis has, for this

momentat least, been exchangedfor the inscribed cut, or the penetratedbody. The
permeability of the body that defines traditional body modification prompts Paul
SNN-eetman
to suggest it might be seen as working against a privileging of the self-

containedmale body, and insteadan acceptanceof what has commonly been defined
-180-

that
Crash,
In
the
178-9).
wound
(1999a,
body
female
leaky,
as a penetrable,even
body.
the
feminization
inside
is
of
to
the
a
reveals
comparable
evidently
its
body
female
ect
a.
descriptions
Furthermore,it conforms to customary
the
via
of
interior and its unclean fluidity. But as well as the open cut, the scar seals up the
The
female
from
inside; the injury site is bisexual, switching
to nodular male.
gaping
free-flowing
in
is
displayed
interchangeability
the
that
sexual
consequence is an
engagements.

In addition to bisexuality, the wound facilitates oscillations in gender roles.


Mirroring BDSM patterns, power is not fixed with one party but is negotiated and in
flux.
is
bottom
in
if
There
top
the
no
or
relationships everyone penetrates
a state of
is
is
The
this
wound makes sex Potentially polymorphous, and yet,
and penetrated.
happens
in
Crash.
being
in
In
spite of
couched these terms, what transpires
not what
is a flirtatious homoeroticism hidden behind the scar and propped up by traditional
differences.
Far from liberating gender opportunities, the control of the body
sexual
through refigurement, with the universal experiences of pleasure and pain, mostly

reinforcesnonnalized genderdivides.
The wound, although bringing to mind and inviting penetration, is not used in
this way in the male body. James's leg, which must have been a gaping chasm when

smashedin the car crash,is seenfor the first time when it has beenfirmly closed,and
held togetherby screws, bolts and tubular reinforcement (see figure 3.13). In closeup, tight stitching ftirther secures the integrity of the body by sealing the leg with an
unyielding seam. The imagery is in marked contrast to that of Gabrielle's gashed
thigh. Only protected by a Velcro strap and the flimsy mesh of her fishnet pantyhose,

xvIlich James easily tears aside, the wound is a facsimile of a vaginal opening,
completewith scar tissue labia and nodular clitoris (figure 3.19). It is no surprisethat
this pseudo-genitalorgan is Ballard's (and Gabrielle"s) preferred site for penetration.
-181-

Figure 3.19 Scar as pseudo-genital organ in Crash


her
increases
is
Gabrielle's
Even the rigidity of
callipers surmounted, and ultimately
fixing
her
leg
to
by
access
easier
vertically, and allowing
penetrability and passivity
both genital and pseudo-genital organs. The only difficulty the pair experience is the
fraught
has
been
in
interior.
Making
with
always
out
a car
restrictions of the car's
difficulty
is
Gabrielle's
but
here
the
there
adaptations
of
added
negotiating gearshifts,
for her disability. The mechanics of the control levers amount to a simplistic
body.
from
Transposed
Gabrielle's
for
the
the
unusual
mechanics of
metaphor
tubular structure that had defined Ballard's male body as impenetrable, these metallic
bars stress Gabrielle's open female body, and link it to disability: a rationale that in
is
Furthermore,
binary
the
threatens
no way
sex scene one of the very
stereotypes.
few in the entire film that has the participants facing each other during intercourse.
Consequently, the allusion to traditional sexual roles is made even more apparent.
But what is most striking about the whole film in terms of gender divisions is
that no man is penetrated by a woman. Although no woman has a scarred phallic

182-

40

for
designed
is
Gabrielle's
a
role.
such
stick
protuberance,
walking

Yet, no scar or

homosexual
In
is
breached
by Gabrielle's aid or any other prosthesis. addition,
anus
Roy
Vaughan.
having
discretely
is
limited
Ballard
sex with
to
penetration
Grundmann(1997,27) makesa similar observation,arguing it reflects the logic that
is
Vaughan
Ballard's
no
sex with
the male protagonist cannot be penetrated,and that
Vaughan
believes
it
is
he
Further,
the
penetration of
more than an act of slumming.
for
is
integrity
is
if
dying.
his
It
in
male
that
required
as physical
part necessitates
integrity.

in
for
have
does
Grundmann
such negativity,
compelling corroborating evidence
that Crash is saturatedwith homoeroticism, yet homosexuality and bisexuality are
largely withheld. Thus, we have Vaughan lusting over Ballard's scarred body in the
hospital, and most sex acts are either anal or rear-entry. Moreover, the scene in which
Ballard has sex with Catherine from behind whilst she asks him if he would like to
for
female
body
Vaughan
the male.
the
a surrogate
explicitly makes
sodomize
Further, the handling of the sex between Ballard and Vaughan seems coy, with its
disappear
behind
barriers,
long
dim
lighting,
that
tracking
choice of
shots,
shots
and
low angles preventing seeing into the car. For Grundmann, this amounts to a
reactionary responseto the threat of male homosexuality.

Convenientthough this explanation is, it fails to explain Cronenberg'sanecdotal


feeling
betrayed
because
leave
heterosexual
that
the
the
comment
cinema
men often
have
incarnates
has
Ballard
to
that
stud
proceeded
sex with another man (in Shelley
1996,15). Furthennore, Grundmann, although rightly arguing that the lesbian scene

betweenHelen and Gabrielle is depicted more voyeuristically than the homosexual


from
fails
it
is
far
to
that
one,
explicit and comes across as 'completely
mention
40The
by
in
body
is
wielding
a
phallic
male
object Cronenberg's earlier film
penetrated a woman
Rabid(Canada, 1976) and his later film eXistenZ (UK/Canada, 1999). The latter film has the insertion
of a bodyport into the spine (to enable the playing of virtual reality games) in a processthat has a
specific tone of body piercing.

183
-

tokenistic' (Creed 1998,178). In fact, although Ballard's sexual denouementwith


Vaughan is motivated by preceding events, both same-sex couplings are percolated

their
isolation
because
the
and
their
narrative
within
with artifice
shot selection,
of
brevity. We should also note that in contrast to the sensuality of the wounds in the
film, these moments appearto be numbed of sensation.Vaughan's ramming of the
in
have
love
the
Ballard
they
the
of
car
sits
superiority
wrecked
after
made
reasserts
battering assault over the sexual exchange. Variations in sexual orientation are

thereforejust as dull as being straight; sex can never match the sensualand sensorial
intensity of the wound, and the exquisite pain of the refigured body.
Crash certainly fails to evoke a utopia founded on polymorphic sexuality, but
this is not its aim. The sexual climax is no more than the bland 'all right' phrase that
fixes
film
drug-like
throughout
the
characters use
after sex, car smashes and
from
extracted
videotaped crash tests. The pursuit of pleasure through sexual
is
variations and permutations reduced to a reflex response, and the ensuing climax is
being
involuntary
is
investigating
Crash
to
the
twitch.
the
negated
point of
an
for
bodily
based
body.
Scars and cuts
the
potential
other
pleasures
upon
corporeal
from
deformity
into
the
slip
restraints of
additional erogenous zones that complicate
rather than resolve notions of sexuality and pleasure/pain.

It would be more politically challenging if Crash demonstratedthat refigurement


identity,
free-flowing
completely redefined sexual
and allowed a
exchange of gender
but
instead it assails another culturally entrenched opinion. By expressing an
roles,
interest in refigurement, Crash asks how we understand disfigurement and pain. By

embracingboth as difference amidst the uniformity of dulled sexual experimentation,


Crash is articulating Vaughan's project, which is about having a different
relationship with our bodies. A product of this is an oblique confrontation of the
sexuality of people with disabilities: both recognizing their ability to be sexual
184-

beings, and acknowledging the voyeuristic impulse they prompt for many ablebodied spectators. But being defined by a disability is not the same as defining
the
is
by
difference
The
of
yourself
your refigurement.
of course possessing control

body. The characters in Crash exercise this luxury, and it is the source of the
is
body,
just
is
Creating
the
the pain a masteryof the
scar a
as
pleasureof the wound.
is
for
body.
The
the spectator
conscious control through the moulding of the
pleasure
trying to imagine what it feels like, but not really wanting to feel it. This need to

know but not wanting to know is the same as the half-glanced look at Gabrielle's
how
is
In
the
that
to
the
car salesman compelled repeat.
scar
next chapter, we will see

the need to look at the aestheticizedspectacleof the controlled body becomes a


feature
in
is
films.
for
in
But
Crash,
the
the
structuring
some
characters
compulsion
to feel. It is only through sensations that they can confirm their existence. Unlike
Tattoo and Strangeland, Crash does not depict genuine body modification pursuits,
in
it
is
To
to
their
yet
many ways
closer
essence.
make the subject cinematic, it
body
reinterprets
modification; but whereas Boxing Helena distorts contemporary
cultural meanings into sadistic domination, Crash retains many of its pleasures, aims
and applications. Thus, it is sensual and sexual, spiritual and personal, and

consensualand affirmative, and it showcasesthe marking of the body as a meansof


control.

185
-

4. The Cinematic Art of Serial Killers


[T]here was something artificial about it. Like posed. She was on display.
Hillside
the
that
describing
of
Detective Monahan (Holly Hunter)
a crime scenereplicating
Strangler in Copycat (Jon Amiel, USA, 1995)

In respectof BDSM in Chapter2, and body modification in Chapter 3, we witnessed


last
in
films
in
twenty
the
has
been
body
that the controlled
aestheticized numerous
by
films
in
However,
the
each chapter were respectively united
although
years or so.
in
body,
the
pain,
themes of marking and controlling the
and
concomitant pleasure
large
For
though,
the
mass
there was no cohesive genre.
a sufficiently
current chapter

body
Sick,
BDSM
define
But,
films
the
the
to
or
of
unlike
a subgenre.
exists
of
display
films
in
Crash,
this
no sense of consensual
chapter
all
modifications of
killer.
The
in
is
for
body
the
the
the
serial
victim of
question
controlled
pleasure,
directed
And
body
is
the
the
thus
yet, an
at
spectator.
primarily
controlled
pleasure of
impression of gratification remains within the text, for in a group of serial killer

films, a bound and gashedbody is not enoughto insist upon the murderer's control.
Instead, the creatively staged death scene suggests utter subjection and domination,

but also a pleasurein the macabrebeauty of the tormentedbody. To achievethe dual


form.
interest
in
human
films
Indeed,
the
the
the
corporeal
result,
plunder
current
Mark Seltzer has categorized the serial killer as part of the contemporary 'wound

fascinated
by
body,
damage
the
torn
culture': a society
and open
where
and trauma
identity'
(1998,2),
between
'badges
the
are
and
people
of
grapple with
relationship

inside and outside, public and private. In such a culture, the serial killer, especially
whencinematically conceivedof via the reffied form of the posedvictim, can feature
alongsidethe consensualworlds of BDSM and body modification, for all three deal
xviththe controlled body that fusespleasureand pain.

186-

The Death of Dying, and the Rebirth of the Dead


In 1986, Pete Boss declared in Screen that: 'For death in the contemporary horror
film to occur offscreen would be almost unthinkable, it would miss the point' (16).
Boss rightly identifies the cinematic focus at that time, namely, what Isabel Pinedo
1).
The
'Spectacle
Wet
Death'
(1997,5
the
the
concentrationon the visibilitY
calls
of
Through
dying
its
in
films
1980s.
1970s
the
the
reached zenith
of
slasher
of
and early
their marauding serial killers, they displayed increasing body counts in successive

Boss's
implements
In
sequels,with evermore-contrived
and settings. addition, and
fear
Coma
depicted
in
films
the
primary concern,
of modem medicine
such as
(Michael Crichton, USA, 1978) and The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, USA,
1983), brought anatomical detail to the fore. In both instances, the visceral, the
skeletal and the sanguine vividly

fragility
the
exposed

body
it
the
of
as
was

destroyed. Philip Brophy constitutes the style as a 'mode of showing as opposed to


telling' (1986,8), and Pinedo (1997,51-68) clarifies the relationship between seeing
and not-seeing, proposing a combination of glimpses, expectations and looking
her
But
away.
premise still orientates around the need to seethe act of devastation.
Whenever art is discussed alongside such horror films, it is usually applied to the
in
to
ability
show gore its visceral detail. The emblematic spectaclesof destruction in
The Exorcist (William Friedkin, USA, 1973), Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero,

USA, 1979) and Scanners (David Cronenberg, Canada, 1980) have become
immortalized in fanzines such as Fangoria and Cinefantastique, and made cult
celebritiesof the special effects artists Dick Smith and Tom Savini. The ruined body
is therefore regardedas art, but in terms of the filmmaker's talent, not the artistry
within the narrative.
Alongside the fandom based on how the spectacle is created. the characters
responsiblehave cult followings, especially those in the slasherfilms. Although the
187-

'Final Girl' (Clover 1992) forms part of the equation, and sometimes

in
appears

in
the
identification
factor
and point of
sequels,the serial killer is the consistent
killer
in
the
character:
dedicated
is
For
fans,
the
serial
of
there
craft
a pleasure
series.
he (and occasionally she) is someone who will dispatch the victim efficiently,
in
for
diversity,
flair
manner
a
never
although
sometimeseloquently, and even with a
is
In
be
there
eccentricity and
that can genuinely
place of art,
called artistic.

is
his
killer
it
is
that
than
the
celebrated-'
work
rather
serial
occasionalwitticisms, so
More recently, especially from the mid 1990sonwards, but with highly notable
has
his
killer
influential
the
the
shifted.
crimes
serial
and
precursors, emphasison
and
Body horror persists, but in a distinctly different manner. Creative deaths also

imaginative
isolated
longer
but
the
these
as
carnal spectacles are no
abound,
form
by
they
the
a significant part of
now
special effects artists;
attractions produced
the narrative structure, for the artistic offerings are the signatures of the multiple
death
is
Furthen-nore,
the
the
marginalized or completely
wet
spectacle of
murderers.

body
is
dead,
in
favour
the
the
the
tableaux
aesthetically
of
where
of
removed
displayed.
In David Fincher's Se7en, made in the US in 1995, a series of murder scenes are
based on the seven deadly sins; in The Bone Collector, directed by Phillip Noyce

four years later, a serial killer stagesdeathsin the manner of crimes illustrated in a
from
fiction
book;
in
Mulcahy's
Resurrection,
1999,
Russell
pulp
also
and
posed,

mutilated bodies are only steps to produce a work of art composedof the missing
body parts. In all three films, the serial killer has an elaborateplan that is visualized
body
In
FBI
the
the
in
within
overt placement of
a stagedcrime setting.
parlance,
thesewould fit into the category of Organized Killer, for each crime scene proclaims
The statusof the various killers was such that a proliferation of merchandiseappearedbasedupon
them,the most conspicuousof which was in respectof Freddy Krueger, with dolls and gloves based
on his character,and a television spin-off for Robert Englund who played him.

188-

his
a murder planned well in advance, reflecting the killer's overall control of
how
a
to
Furthermore,
such
(Newton
2000,179).
they
correspond
environment'
killer 'may personalize the victim through controlled (even scripted) conversation,

thus feeding the ritualistic fantasiesthat dominatehis life' (Newton 2000,179).


That the tenn Organized Killer is in public circulation beyond that of the law
has
is
the
testament
to
vast media coverage serial murder
enforcement agencies
2
Lecter,
featuring
Hannibal
In
Thomas
Harris
the
novels of
experienced. particular,
K.
Robert
former
FBI
Behavioural
Science
Unit
the
employees
and
memoirs of
3
Ressler and John E. Douglas, have captured the public's attention. The figure of the

(someone
deduce/predict
to
character
profiler
who examines crime sceneevidence
traits of the perpetrator) has been picked up by Hollywood, and placed in a battle of
wits against the creative genius of the serial killer.

Where the slasher film

foregrounded the killer and the Final Girl in a battle of speed and resourcefulness as
4
one pursued the other,, the subgenre of artistic serial killer concentrates on the
mental pursuit by the profiler, whereby the killer might remain anonymous for much
film.
However, the films do not merely return to the familiar pattern of a
the
of

whodunit, where the detective identifies clues accidentally left by the killer and
solves the mystery of what linked the victim to the murderer, for the nature of the
crime has changed. Neither the chase nor the detection is the primary narrative drive

(although both may feature); the clues are now deliberately marked at the crime
scene,most especially on the body of the victim, and the challenge is to read these

clues,for the mutilated body is the languageof control and suffering. Writing in the
FBI journal Law Enforcement Bulletin in respect of actual murder
sites, John E.

Douglasand Corrine Munn (1992) confirm the current thinking that there
exists a
For example, Resslerand Shachtman 1992, Schechterand Everitt 1996 and Simpson 2000.
3
John E. Douglas has frequently been seenas the model for Jack Crawford in Harris's books.
4One immediately thinks of the traps deployed by Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in A Nightmare
on
Elm Street(Wes Craven, USA, 1984).

189-

dialogue between the investigator and killer by stating, 'Most crime scenestell a
functioning
a
'
Because
as
the
the
murder site
story.
of
general acceptance of

battle
intellect:
discourses
films
great
the
of
a
art
and
of
narrative,
operate within
minds and aestheticchallenges.
The metafiction formation stressesthe notion of the controlled body, for as
Resslerand Shachtmannote, 'Control is of the essencefor the organized offender,
facet
in
look
for
law-enforcement
learn
to
personnel
control as an element every
and

both
(1992,140).
To
the
the
the
the
and
crime'
articulate
control,
over
victim
of
investigation, expressly the battle for intellectual superiority between the killer and
the profiler (or substitute profiler such as the forensic psychologist in Kiss the Girls
(Gary Fleder, USA, 1997), the leading criminologist in The Bone Collector, the
in
Ripper (John E. Eyres, Canada, 2001) and the uniquely
criminology students
detective
in
Se7en
in
Resurrection),
perceptive seasoned
and
a change the narrative
Unless
to
take
the profiler witnessed every crime, the serial
emphasis needed
place.

killer's control over the victim (and the investigation) would be much less evident to
him or her. However, by staging the death scene, the killer articulates his control to

the profiler. Thus, where the slasherfilms had concentratedon the modus operandi
of the killer, in other words, the very acts that enablethe crime to be completed,the
killer
investigated
the
murders of
artistic
subgenre are
via Signature Behaviour. The
signature or "'calling card... as Douglas and Munn (1992) call it, is any activity
engagedin at the crime scene that is not necessary for the successful completion of
the offence (Cooley, 2000), for example using a prepared script with the victim.

Committing these additional acts, especially the decidedly sophisticated ones


depictedin the films, deploys evidenceof the serial killer's planning, mastery of the
victim. and ability to composethe crime sceneat his leisure. Further. the placement
of cluesto solve the crime. and to suggestseriality (e.g. the seven deadly sins motif
-190-

killer's
defiant
the
is
to
in Se7en defines there will be more than one), a
challenge
The
him
by
deciphering
the
to
try
to
staging and structuring
evidence.
pursuer
catch
thereforemakesthe serial killer both artist and narrator.
The following films all feature integral moments of artistry as the body, or
Daddy
Bone
Collector,
The
Bone
Blowback,
is
deliberately
displayed:
murder scene,
(Mario Azzopardi, USA/Canada, 1998), Copycat, Hannibal (Ridley Scott, USA,
2001), Kiss the Girls, Manhunter (Michael Mann, USA, 1986), MisterialBody Puzzle
(Lamberto Bava, Italy, 1991), Red Dragon (Brett Ratner, USA/Germany, 2002),
Resurrection, Ripper, Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs and White of the Eye (Donald

Cammell, UK, 1987), as do the British television dramasMessiah (2001), Messiah


IP Vengeance is Mine (2003) and Outside the Rules (2002). It is noteworthy that
first
depictions
Eye,
Thomas
White
the
two
the
predates
one,
of
cinematic
of
only

Harris's characterization Hannibal Lecter (Manhunter and The Silence of the


5
Lambs). Indeed, many of the ideas employed by Harris structure the subgenre, but

for the moment, the key issue is that a distinct subgenreexists in which the killer is
didactic
promotedas
artist.
Some of the films do not utilize all the attributes of the subgenre. Bone Daddy
features former medical examiner William

Palmer (Rutger Hauer), who, after

developing his memoirs of a serial killer into novel, in which he conveniently


changesthe ending so that the murderer is caught, is hounded by the reappearanceof
the killer. After his literary agent goes missing, Palmer is sent pieces of bone from

the living victim: a direct referenceto the earlier crimes where only body parts were

It should be noted that, of course, not all serial killer films after Manhunter exhibit the formal and
iiarrative traits of the artistic serial killer subgenre.For example, Blue Steel (Kathryn Bigelow, USA,
1990)featuresclues in the form of bullets with a name on them, but contains no senseof artistry.
Similarly, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, although beginning with a series of scenesshowing the
tranquil aftermath of murders, has a soundtrack that carries the murders happening in a temporal
disjuncture.
Furthen-nore,the remainder of the film is quite explicit, both in respectof watching the
murdershappenand in their haphazardand mundanenature.
-

191 -

found. Although no tableaux of death are discovered, the fragmented body is set,
bones
for
bloody
literally,
the
are posed
the
quite
novelist,
amidst
creative work of
killer
battle
between
book.
Furthennore,
the
the
and
the
amidst
of wits
words of
is
false
former
latter
the
the
novelist played out via
sending
clues, the game structure
A
is
foregrounded
by
bar
William
Palmer's
to play chess.
of which
visits to a
hard
less
life
imitating
'count
that
on
charactermay warn
you should
art and more on
but
it
is
holds
for
film.
that
the
evidence',
art nonetheless
sway
much of
Through examining the visual flourishes of the posed body, the coded messages
killer,
be
following
I
the
the
the
and
art of
serial
will
asking
questions of the
What
from?
What
killer
the
cultural context might
subgenre.
artistic serial
originate
discernable
from
principles of representation are
articulating control via the posed

dead body? What might the implications be for having the serial killer become an
happens
it
What
becomes
to
the
artist?
spectacle when
part of the narrative structure?
And does death as tableaux deny the victim's pain or is the confrontation of suffering
the price we pay for information?

Serial Killers and Artistry


For the purposes of my study, I am concisely defining serial killing as two or more
6
between
separate murders with an emotional cooling-off period
each one. Serial
killing is frequently categorized as a product of the modem age; the anonymity of the

loss
breakdown
family
the
the
the
metropolis,
of community,
of
unit, the speedand
breadthof travel, and the regimentation of working life are all regarded as causal
agents.In essence,the alienation of the individual and the tedium of existence in a
mechanical/technologicalage are seen to spawn the new breed of killer. Such an
" The FBI has

including
for
3 or more separatemurders, as
the
of
criteria
need
a more elaborate set
Nvellas requiring the deathsto take place at discrete locations (a condition that would bizarrely remove
DennisNilsen from the category).

-192-

interpretation prompted ThomasDe Quincey to describethe excitement of murder as


being 'a condiment for seasoningthe insipid monotonies of daily life' (De Quincey
is
killer
1897c, 96). In addition to being symptomatic of modernity, the serial
The
fears
for
of
the
convenience
society.
of contemporary
regarded as a synecdoche
the equation is the provision of a figure of 'evil' that most of society can unite
inherently
is
killer
However,
in
2000,7).
Simpson
(Philip
Jenkins
the
serial
against
is
for
an
the
as
pleasure
of
a
source
simultaneously
reviled
murderer
contradictory,

diabolic
the
fascination,
the
the
crime,
more
and a veritable celebrity, where
object of
fame.
the
greater
Richard Dyer has indicated how apposite the structure of serial killing is to
is
'it
feature
has
been
life,
for
only
of storytelling,
a
always
although seriality
modem
became
that
a reigning principle of cultural production,
seriality
under capitalism
starting with the serialisation of novels and cartoons, then spreading to news and
(1997,14).
movie programming'

Such media is defined by both repetition and

anticipation. Dyer argues that, comparably, serial murders are 'each a variation and
before,
in
(1997,14).
those
a serial'
continuation of
each an episode

Robert K.

Resslerhas, perhaps unknowingly, made a similar argument when he falsely claimed


7
the credit for inventing the term serial killer. Acknowledging

the appellation

he
in
expressescrimes committed a series, claims that:
what was also in my mind were the serial adventures we used to see on
Saturday at the movies.... Each week, you'd be lured back to see another
because
dramatic
In
there
the
episode,
end of each one
was a cliff-hanger.
at
terms, this wasn't a satisfactory ending, because it increased, not lessened
the tension. The same dissatisfaction occurs in the minds of serial killers.
(Ressler and Shachtman 1992,35)8

The term 'serial murderer' is said to have first appearedin print in 1966 in John Brophy's The
Aleaningoj'Afurder (Newton 2000,205).
8That
xN,,
e once more find a referenceto the cliffhanger indicates its enduring quality (and quality of
endurance),but also confirms the interrelationship between these serial killer films and the other
cinematicrepresentationsof the controlled body discussedin the thesis.

193-

the
Dyer also pinpoints a peculiarly fictional application of seriality: alongside
from
is
gratification
pleasure of anticipation and suspense via repetition, there

discerning an overall pattern to the series(1997,16). The construction and revelation


the
to
is
of the sequence the culmination of the series, and gives greater credence
Copycat,
films
Se7en,
In
killer
being
forward-thinking
the
conceptualartist.
a
serial
drarna
British
Collector
Resurrection,
television
The Bone
as well as the
and
Messiah,the meaning and creative composition is more than the sum of each of the
instalments
that
displayed
What
are produced are murder
murder scenes.
artistically
In
feature
the
their
effect,
murder scenes are enjoyed as
very
seriality.
out
of
a
make
into
for
throws
the
confusion the conventions of
conceptual artist
conceptual art,
for
is
the assertion of murder
that
also appropriate
aesthetic communication, a charge

asart.
That some films should chooseto equatethe serial killer with the artist should
Considered
One
in
Murder
De
Quincey,
'On
Thomas
as
of the
come as no surprise.
Fine Arts: First Paper', originally published in 1827, argues that:

be
laid
hold
by
its
handle
it
is
in
Murder
(as
the
generally
may
of
moral
...
is
its
it
Old
Bailey),
I
the
that,
and
confess,
weak side; or may
pulpit and at
be treated aesthetically,
is, in relation to good taste. (De Quincey
that
...
1897a,13)
De Quincey suggeststhat for 'the composition of a fine murder' (1897a, 12) you
require 'Design, ... grouping, light and shade, poetry, [and] sentiment' (I 897a, 12).
He points towards appreciation of the complexity and originality of murder beyond
the scope of moral indignation. Rejecting the 'gaudy display' of copious blood

enjoyed by the general populace, De Quincey condescendingly contends 'the


enlightened connoisseur is more refined in his taste' (I 897a, 48). The stance
correlatesto the rejection of the stalk-and-slashfilms of the 1970s and the critical
acclaimlauded upon The Silence of the Lambs, which Yvonne Tasker has likened to
-194-

'arty slasher' (2002,32).


De
begin
does
horrific
Of course, the conjunction of beauty and the
with
not
Quincey. English Gothic literature featured it strongly, and influenced the style and
imagery of countless serial killer movies. Philip L. Simpson has attested that, 'The

killer
for
breeding
become
literary
the
serial
ground
what would
earliestrecognizable
fictional narrative is the Gothic tradition' (2000,26). Similarly, Michel Foucault
identifies the late eighteenthcentury as a time when 'a whole new literature of crime
developed:a literature in which crime is glorified, becauseit is one of the fine arts'
9
(1991,68).
But the written word has persistently looked towards the visual arts to venerate
the beauty of death. A graphic example occurs in Charles Robert Maturin's Melmoth

the Wanderer,which has the description of a blood-drained body being 'worthy of


the pencil of a Murillo, a Rosa, or any of those painters, who, inspired by the genius
delight
in
human
forms
in
the
the
of suffering,
representing
most exquisite of
human
(in
Praz
1970,122).
Robbe-Grillet's
Alain
extremity of
agony'
short story
'The Secret Room' (1965a) makes the association more vehemently. Describing in

detail a naked woman's murdered body, the crime scene,and the fleeing killer, the
tale only reveals in its very last phrase that the account is of a painting.

The recourse to the visual arts is understandable.The beautification of the


horrific is evident in such diverse works of art as the fantasy worlds of Hieronymus
Bosch, the painfully detailed religious imagery of GrUnewald, and the animal
slaughter and ritual crucifixions of Hermann Nitsch's, events with the Viennese

Actionists. These. and many other works, are a pictorial version of De Quincey's
9 Like the Gothic

film
frequently draws on the artist and the link between
Gothic
before
the
it,
novel
the horrific and fine art. Thus, the ancestralpaintings with their senseof foreboding feature in
Rebecca(Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1940) and Dragonwyck (JosephL. Mankiewicz, USA, 1946),
Nfliilstthe painting literally contains the horrific in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Albert Lewin, USA,
1945).

195-

belief in the aestheticsof murder.


J.
Wayne
The artist is further linked to the criminal by being an outsider.
Douglass in 'The Criminal Psychopath as Hollywood Hero' sees the psychopath as
'the logical successor to the gangster as criminal hero' with both trying 'to emerge

from the anonymous crowd, to assert their identity through violent, anti-social
behavior' (1981,32). The defining difference though is that whilst the gangsterseeks
favour
in
it
like
the
the
of
psychopath,
stereotypical artist, rejects
material gain,
in
White
heroic
Cody
Jarrett
Developing
the
as
protagonist via
emotional euphoria.
Heat (Raoul Walsh, USA, 1949), Scorpio in Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, USA, 1971)
in
Kit
Carson
Badlands (Terrence Malick, USA, 1973), the psychopath evolved
and
into the artistic serial killer, where the murderer may be psychopathic, psychotic, or
just
in
But
the artistic serial killer incarnations, the correlation to the
potentially
evil.

artist is extended,so that the murderer now claims the artist's assumedcapacity to
speaka truth that others cannot or will not see.
In the serial killer films that comprise my study, the murder forms part of the
artistic project. Art as a by-product of, or as a disguise for murder (and murder as a
by-product of art) do not fall into my remit. Thus, Mystery of the Wax Museum
(Michael Curtiz, USA, 1933), and the remake, House of Wax (Andre' de Toth, USA,

1953),are not examplesof what I would define as the artistic killer. In both films, a
sculptor's wax figures are destined for the Royal Academy. But when his lifetime's
work is destroyed in a fire, he replaces them with wax-dipped humans. Comparably,
Walter Paisley (Dick Miller) in A Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, USA, 1959), who

embalmshis victims in clay, does so not to exhibit their deaths,but to hide them.'O
More recently, AnatomielAnatomy

(Stefan Ruzowitzky,

Germany, 2000) has

10The
sameis true of his namesakeplayed by Anthony Michael Hall in the remake Bucket OfB10od
(Michael J. McDonald, USA, 1995). Made in the middle of the period defmed by the films I
am
investigating,it is surprising that this film remains so faithful to the original
story.

-196-

displayed the dead as art, but again away from the context of killing and the crime
scene.
Other films have interpreted the act of killing via art. Peeping Tom (Michael
Powell,, UK, 1960), the cult status of which Peter Wollen attributes to its
-aestheticisation of death' (1994,20), features a scopophiliac cinematographer who
films the reactions of his victims as they watch their own deaths. The instrument of
death:
A
the
tripod.
the
more
a spike on
camera's
artistry actually achieves

deaths
in
UK,
1973).
Theatre
(Douglas
Hickox,
series
of
occurs
offflood
ostentatious
A second-rate Shakespeareanactor, Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) avenges his
failure to win the Critics Circle award by killing each voting critic in the manner of
the Shakespeare play they issued his bad review for. Consequently, we have the
eating of children (surrogate ones in the form of two poodles) from Titus Andronicus,

into
force-feeding
death;
his
he
to
which extends
a man's murder of
wife, whom
falsely accusesof adultery as in Othello; and the removal of a heart to represent the
pound of flesh from The Merchant of Venice. These three murders, not dissimilar to
11
deadly
Gluttony,
in
Lust
Greed
Se7en, are solved, as are the
the
sin murders of
and
others, by the sole remaining critic from the circle. It should not go unnoticed that it
is a critic who interprets the crime scenes, for the role of evaluator has great
pertinence for the type of investigation required for the serial killer artist.
In an essay that has productively begun to chart the serial killer aesthete, Steven
Jay Schneider sets up a primitive taxonomy that differentiates between films that

-showcasemurder as an artistic product' and those that 'showcase it as an artistic


perfon-nance' (2001,71). Acknowledging that they are not mutually exclusive, he
situates Peeping Tom and Theatre of Blood in the latter category. Inadequately
"A
similar film with Vincent Price, TheAbominable Dr Phibes (Robert Fuest, UK, 1971), which
featuresdeathsin the manner of the ten deadly plagues,has also been compared
with Se7en(see
David Kalat in Schneider,2001,84 n. 7).

197-

though, Schneiderappearscontent with a superficial examination of whether or not


to
how
the artistry relates
the elements exist in the films, rather than any analysis of

(Sean
13th
Friday
films
the
the narrative. Schneidertherefore also locatesthe slasher
in
1981)
the
USA,
Rosenthal,
(Rick
II
Cunningham,
Halloween
S.
USA, 1980) and
is
though
the
artistry primarily associated with
category of artistic performance, even

the production team of writer, director and special effects person, rather than the
killer.
force
dumb
the
of
creative
Equally opaque in reasoning is the inclusion of Scream (Wes Craven, USA,

1996) and Urban Legend (Jamie Blanks, USA, 1998), the murder scenesin which
being
have
little
to
to
a conscious act of aestheticization,
relationship
would appear

facsimiles,
by
bland
axe-wielding stalk-and-slash
and often marginalized
simple
deaths. For something to be art, there must be an intention of display, either of the

best.
finished
intent,
it
becomes
Without
the
effect.
aesthetic at
performance or
Furthermore, self-reflexivity

does not in itself constitute art. The serial killer in

Copycat, notwithstanding the title suggesting plain imitation, has originality, and

therefore deservesto be in the classification. Besides replicating both the modus


operandi and signatures of famous serial killers (Albert DeSalvo, Kenneth Bianchi
and Angelo Buono, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy), the copycat killer, Peter Foley
(William McNamara), has an overarching schemata organized not on chronology or

killers
but
the
the
alphabeticalorder,
serial
on
sequence
were mentioned in the
lecture given by criminal psychologist Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver). To

enhancethe artistry, the final serial killer linked to Helen is the serial killer who
attempted to kill her on the day of her lecture. The copycat killer wishes to do more

2
'
for
he
in
killing
him,
her.
than replicate
Further, Foley's
wishes to succeed

12As Richard Dyer


film
'wants to repeat itse4f,so this killing too must
the
though,
out
adroitly points
onIN-be an attempted one. bringing the film to a perfect formal closure' (1997,16).

-198-

deliberate recreation of the crime scene,by placing Helen's shoe on the floor as she
hangsfrom a noosein the public toilets, showsan aesthete'seye for detail.
I would also contest the simplicity of Schneider's other category, artis ic
different
like
Collector
Resurrection
Films
Se7en,
The
Bone
and
are very
products.
to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Jobe Hooper, USA, 1974), which Schneider

includes with Se7enin the grouping of artistic product. Deranged (Jeff Gillen and
Alan Ormsby, USA, 1974), like The TexasChainsaw Massacre,is basedon the real
bodies.
killer
Ed
Gein,
has
killer
fashioning
the
and
serial
objects out of victims'
Removed from the crime scene, these are personal souvenirs, which take pride of

13
in
home.
discrete
As
the
they
place
murderer's
art objects,
perform a completely
function to the artistic tableaux of the crime scenes in the films of my study. As
Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) says in Maniac! (William Lustig, USA, 1980), another film
killer
(scalps
about a serial
who collects grisly souvenirs
of women), 'In a painting or
a picture they're yours forever. ' The objective of souvenir art is possession; in
films
like
Se7en, with their art of the crime scene, are about displaying
contrast,
control, creativity and genius. The two categories are quite separate, and best not

classifiedtogether.
Even The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, USA, 1979), where an artist becomes a

serial killer when he suffers a creative block, does not advocatethe crime sceneas
art. But traces of the murder scene as art can be discerned in films that do not
foregroundit. In police stations and FBI offices in numerousfilms, the pin board of
photographs of murder scenes and bodies form macabre galleries. Usually only
glimpsed in the background, films in the subgenre of artistic killers sometimes turn
them into veritable features. A primary example would be the display in Jack

131usethe ten-n
killer's
fantasies,
to
to
the
to
objects
used
supplement
refer
souvenir
as opposedto
trophies,which commemorate the kill.
-

199-

Crawford's office in The Silence of the Lambs, with the prominent wording of 'Bill
Skins Fifth' (figure 4.1). Do we not, like Clarice (Jodie Foster), strain our eyes to
Hannibal
too,
In
bodies?
images
the
of
catch sight of the photographically composed
has
Foley
in
Copycat,
is
from
Europe,
and
awash with murder scenes
across
a wall

his own private collection, including both victims and his pursuer Helen Hudson,
killers
4.2).
is
(figure
'pin-up
the
girl' of serial
who notes she
Where might the inspiration for the current cinematic deployment of murder
have
killers
'signatures'
It
true
that
or
serial
scene art emanate? certainly seems
'calling cards' for their murders, a point apparently not lost on the makers of
American Psycho (Mary Harron, USA/Canada, 2000), where the serial killer or
in
fantasizing
doodler,
Patrick
Bateman
(Christian
Bale),
takes
a
part
maybe only
based
business
have
As
upon
calling cards.
we
seen with the
game of one-upmanship
involve
Washington
Sniper,
the
taunting notes and tarot cards
recent
signature may
14
left at the scene. Others have expressed a greater penchant for aestheticized
dressing of the scene. The Boston Strangler created lavish bows from the ligatures
his
Hillside
Strangler,
the
the
around
necks of
posed victims;
actually two killers
displayed
for
together,
the
the police to
working
viciously assaulted victims
openly

find; and the murder scenesassociatedwith Charles Manson had sloganswritten in


blood on the walls and carved into the mutilated body of a victim (Schechterand
Everitt 1996; Newton 2000; Fuchs 2002). An American magazine, Answer Me, has
even printed a list of the top 100 "'most creative... murders (Fuchs 2002,15).

However,most serial killer art doesnot relate directly to the crime scene.In Los
\ngeles, the Amok Gallery featured the artwork of Charles Manson and John Gacy;
the latter's work is collected by Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop and John Waters, and has

14In
other more famous cases.the notes have been sent to the police or the press, for example the Jack
the Ripper letters.

-200-

I
or,

OBILL
SKINS
FIFTW-V
oAL

r
d'L if,

Figure 4.1 FBI pin board gallery of suffering in The Silence of the Lambs

: 1,
1' *

40

dl.,I",,

IR

Figure 4.2 Peter Foley's personal gallery of suffering, including Helen Hudson,
the 'pin-up girl' of serial killers, in Copycat

increasedin value since his execution.' 5 The cult of the serial killer is sufficiently
strong for anything associated with the killer to be collectable. Thus, letters,
photographs and signatures of serial killers have all become collectibles, and if the

facsimile
do,
killers
be
thing
real
cannot obtained, a
will
so serial
adom t-shirts and
playing cards, and a website allows you to download fonts so you can type in the
handwriting style of a killer (Killer Fonts, 1997). Hannibal, one of the most recent
15For
more information on the artwork of serial killers see Schechterand Everitt 1996,14-17 & 4647, Newton 2000,5-7, and Taubin 1991,16.

-201 -

films in the subgenre,directly referencesthe trend, with Barney (Frankie R. Faison),


his
Hopkins),
jailer
(Anthony
related
Hannibal
Lecter
the one time
selling
of
Ae
Joy
of
ephernera,including a signed copy of

16
Cooking.

Fascination with serial killers is by no means a recent cultural trend. Walter


Sickert is said to have been entrancedby Jack the Ripper, and painted The Camden
Town Murder ("at

Shall We Do For the Rent?) (1908) (figure 4.3). Also in respect

Tatar
Maria
Germany
(1995),
Weimar
in
Lustmord.
Sexual
Murder
in
of painters,
Otto
ladykillers)
interested
in
both
George
Grosz
(a
and
man
notes the artwork of
Dix, whose paintings include Sexual Murder (1922) (figure 4.4). The latter is the
body
for
interesting
the
the
the
murder, with
aftermath of
my study, showing
most
during
for
As
Tartar
displayed
the
the
explains,
viewing
public.
aesthetically
by
become
is
'it
the
transfixed
the
to
of
murder
victim,
easy
enough
contemplation
disintegration'
body
in
biological
(1995,13).
However,
the
even
state of
sight of a
its
'The
the
the
whilst we observe
victim,
corpse vanishes as
work of art and
creator
foreground
(1995,17).
the
to
the
enter
serve as
centre of attention'

The trait of

deflecting the gaze from the victim onto the killer as artist is a trend that runs through
the subgenre I am investigating, although, as we shall see, not to the exclusion of
suffering. Where the killers in Mystery of the Wax Museum, A Bucket of Blood,
Deranged and Maniac had wanted control and immortality via the object, the new
breed of serial killer wants the same via the artistry. As John Doe (Kevin Spacey)

be
in
is
he
has
done
'puzzled
Se
it
7en,
that
states
will
over, and studied, and
what
followed, forever'. Attempting to deny John Doe the status of artist, Detective David

Mills (Brad Pitt) declares, 'You're no messiah. You're


the
a
movie
of
week.
...

16A lon-er
scene,eventually cut from the finished version of the film, showed Clarice Starling
(JulianneMoore) viewing an eBay auction site of Lecter related goods.
I

^102
-

2
I

r.%-

Ad

(1908)
)
Rent?
For
Do
We
Shall
the
(What
Murder
Figure 4.3 The Camden Town
by Walter Sickert

Figure 4.4 Sexual Murder (1922) by Otto Dix (original in colour)


17
You're a fucking t-shirt, at best.' But the work is undiminished, for as Chris Pula
(head of marketing for the distributor New Line) has asserted of Se7en, the 'star of
the niovie was the crime. Brad and Morgan [Freeman] were the co-stars' (in Dyer
1999.8).
17Similarly, the
is
2000)
dismissed
Charbanic,
USA,
(Joe
in
Watcher
The
killer
with the phrase
serial
.you're paperwork'.

-203-

in
killer
But it would be wrong to interpret the depiction of the artistic serial
killers
idolatry
films as a straight correlation to the celebrity status and
serial
didacticism
fusion
its
in
fact,
Western
In
and
of
with
society.
experience
founded
killer
in
the
the
on an older
subgenre seems
art
aesthetic
corporeality,
tradition that is going through a renaissance:the anatomy artist.

The aesthetically presentedcorpse has existed as a didactic tool for centuries.


The dissection arenas establishedin the sixteenth century were more than lecture
The
being
to
the
they
theatres:
open
public,
offered education and performance.

his
becoming
further
popular
surroundings were
aestheticized,
anatomist and
designed
for
figures
his
as
wax models of
were
subjects artists, and more uncannily,
detailed
but
framework.
The
anatomical exhibits,
pose of
within an artistic
extremely
Pinson's Anatomy of a Seated Woman (late 18th century) (figure 4.5) does not merely
offer the most opportune pose to reveal the internal organs; instead, it evokes the

murderousattack on an unarmedclassicalnude.
In contrastto the murder scenesof the serial killer artist, it has traditionally been
the criminal not the victim that has been posed. William Pink's Smugglerius (1834)
(figure 4.6), originally cast from the corpse of a convicted smuggler, and put into the
classical statue pose of the Dying Gaul before rigor mortis set in, remains with the
Royal Academy of Arts and featured in the Spectacular Bodies exhibition. The acts

flaying
of
and dissectionwere feared by prisoners on the groundsthat a whole body
was needed to rise again on the Day of Judgement, so as Caroline Walker Bynum

notesof the Medieval period: 'Displaying the bloody fragments of the executedwas
18
The two concessions
a way of underlining their eternal damnation' (1991,280).

niadeto tastebeing, that the bodies be classically posed,and that the criminal would
18We
cannotdismiss the cultural significance of separatingbody parts from the remainder of the body
asbelongingto the historical past. To do so would be to forget the bereavedfamilies whose dead
children'sbody parts were removed without permission at the Alder Hey hospital in England in the
1990s,and their demandsfor them to be returned to be buried with the remainder the body.
of

-204-

th
Andre-Pierre
by
18
(late
Woman
Seated
century)
Figure 4.5 Anatomy of a
Pinson

Figure 4.6 Smugglerius (Ecorche of Man in the Pose of the 'Dying Gaul)
William Pink

by

figures,
6corch6s,
flayed
These
home
his
be
in
displayed
town.
or
were
not
but
f
in
beauty
their
as
subjects or
also served
own right,
considered objects of
drawing classes. Their teaching potential was therefore twofold: do not commit

inner
beauty
body.
Anatomists
look
damned.
the
be
the
of
crinies.or you will
at
and
body.
Leonardo
in
the
da
intrinsically
their
andartistswere
charting of
with
united

-205-

To
this
his
'life'
for
Vinci confessingto having used at least thirty corpses
studies.
day, the cast of a body of an executedChelseapensioner,which was fashionedwhilst
Art,
Royal
Academy.
and
hangs
in
life
the
suffering
the
of
studio
pliably warm, still

is
killer
if
intertwined,
heavily
the
recent.
the
more
serial
of
notion
even
are
murder
Gunthervon Hagenshas (con)fusedboundariesof art and anatomy even further.
His touring exhibition K6rperwelten or Body Worlds, exhibited in London in 20022003, contains actual human bodies, variously flayed, dismembered and
disembowelled,but preserved by a process called Plastination. Although debates
19
have raged concerning how von Hagens obtained the bodies, most controversy has
high
by
inspired
it
is
is
That
Hagens
the
question of whether
art.
von
orbited around

in
final
be
his
he
declares
'the
is
the mind's
that
result must already
of
work
art clear;
beginning,
just
has
in
to
the
the
mind'
anatomist prior
as a sculptor
statue
eye of
(2001,14). Like the photographic work of Muybridge, and Paul Richer and Albert
Londe before him, the figures are usually posed as if in action, especially in sporting
20
pursuits (e.g. The Swimmer, The Goalkeeper, The Swordsman). More painterly, his
Fragmented Plastinate, with body organs revealed by drawers and doors in the skin,
is reminiscent of Dali's The Anthropomorphic Cabinet (1936); The Chess Player is
said to be based upon a Cezanne; and The Runner, a figure displayed with muscles
laterally trailing as if the skeleton is travelling at speed (a kind of anatomically
winged Mercury), is based on Boccioni's Prototypes of Movement in Space

19It is
allegedthat someof the exhibits are the bodies of Siberian peasantsand mental patients from
Novosibirskthat were taken without permission of relatives. In addition, von Hagens has
recently
movedhis operationsto China, and it has been claimed the move was prompted by the easeof
obtainingbodiesthere, rather than becauseof the financial support the Chinese Government are
offering. In von Hagensdefence,there would appearno need for such a move now, becausehis
programmeof body donations (on dying) has five new people signing up each day. For more details,
seeImogenO'Rorke 2001,5 and the television programme 'A Modem Frankenstein', part 3 of the
serlesThcAnatomists(2002).
20Gunther
von Hagens'splastinated fi-guresare not dated. The reasonfor this may be to confer on
thema statusthat falls between art and education, even though they are exhibited in
galleries.

-206-

in
2
1
is
(O'Rorke 2001,5). Exhibited in galleries, there no senseof the morgue the
bloodless,odourlessworld of 'edutaimnent' (von Hagensin Jeffries 2002,3), just a
tone of the beauty of the biologically mechanical.

But these are not murdered bodies, although the spectre of the Holocaust does
Elsa
the
the
tattooed
epidermis on one exhibit reminding one of
pervade event, with
Koch's terror camp designs of lamp shades and gloves from prisoners' skins. As a

22
killer,
both
factual
far
fictional,,
is
too,
the
away.
serial
and
not
point of reference
Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deranged,

furniture
female
from
bones
d'art
the
clothing,
and
produced
objets
of
skin and
bodies, two of whom, he prompted the demise of. Further, Hannibal Lecter's name
frequently appearswhen von Hagens's work is eritieized (see Stuttaford 2002; Moore
2002).
But what makes von Hagens as indicative of his era as the artistic serial killer is
his desire 'to enlighten people by means of aesthetic shock rather than cruelty shock'
(in Jeffries 2002,3): an aspiration that we shall see is consistent with that of the
serial killer John Doe in Se7en. Both von Hagens and the serial killer aesthete exhibit

a renewedinterest in the damaged body, one that aims to educate, but which is
ftequently overlaid with the representation of the past. But for the exquisite
artistry

andthe messageembeddedwithin it to be discerned,a mere detectivewill not do, the


investigatorhas to become commentator.

21O'Rorke
appears to be referring to Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
(191-1).
11A
rumour exists that GOnter Grass compared von Hagens with Josef Mengele (Jeffries 2002,3).
And as if confirming the
circulatory structure of these images, von Hagens's work appears to have
influenced Olivier Goulet's SkinBag. a collection of clothes and bags designed to look like
real skin,
NN'hich
can be personalized with your own tattoo design (Skin-Bag n. d. ). Further, the cinematic
quality
of von Hagens's work inspired the feature film Anatomie. Set in Heidelberg University,
where
von
I-lagensperfected his techniques, the film features
a secret Anti-Hippocratic Oath society, the
niembersof which believe in the right to sacrifice a few for the benefit of
all. By experimenting on the
still conscious victims, the members are seen as descendants of the Nazis.

-207-

The Serial Killer as Artist,


Policeman as Philistine

the Investigator

Critic,
as

the
and

Textual
Crime:
in
Imagining
fiction
Alison Young, in her chapter on detective

Outlaws and Criminal Conversations, identifies two significant strands of


'the
In
fiction
from
in
detective
the nineteenthcentury onwards. one,
representation
figure'
beyond
redemption or as a rebellious
criminal was romanticized ... as evil
(1996,84). Thus, the offender was defined as arch villain, as with Moriarty in the
Sherlock Holmes stories, or amiable outlaw, as epitomized by Robin Hood. In the

'scientization'
towards
the
through
a process of
attitude
crime went
other strand,
(1996,84). Crime was no longer defined as evil, but could be traced to hereditary
defects and conditioning. In a period of scientific expansion, including phrenology
detective
figure
'the
thinking,
the
and rational
genre produced
as positivist': a
able to
interpret and solve the crime through observation (1996,84).
Both strands are pertinent to the artistic killer. Evil is an organizing concept of
Se7en,and the complementary notions of sin and redemption infuse Fincher's film
and the religious iconography and motivations in Blowback, Resurrection and
Messiah. But it is the second constituent that is crucial to the subgenre's format. In
Edgar Alan Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' (1841), which is usually

consideredto be the first detective story, Monsieur Dupin solves a murder


investigation by reading the details in a newspaper and examining the
crime scene.

For example,from one small piece of ribbon, he deducesthat someoneinvolved is


a
Maltesesailor, and through rational deduction, proves the murderer
was an orangutan.As investigator, Dupin's role is to observe and interpret the signs at the murder

scene,andasreader,our pleasureis derived from his deduction of events,and not the


crime itself Coming fourteen years after De Quincey's 'On Murder Considered
as
Oneof the Fine Arts: First Paper. Poe's
story is regardedby Joel Black (1991,16)
"'08
-

providing
detective
and
artist-hero,
the
as
as supplanting the murderer as artist with
his
of
However,
fiction.
model
detective
the template for the modem genre of
Doyle's
tales
of
Conan
Arthur
Sir
Throughout
usurpationappearsoverly emphatic.
in
describes
Holmes
As
Moriarty
Holmes,
Sherlock
remained the master criminal.
by
the
You
here....
hand
tell
is
an old master
The Valley of Fear: 'There a master
can

(1981,178;
I
Moriarty
brush.
I
emphasis
his
tell
one'
see
when
a
can
sweepof
Moriarty
detective
was
the
in
Thus,
era,
the
of
series
most popular
one of
added).
had
it
not
be
that
the
therefore
maestro
criminal
to
suggests
and
an artist,
conceived
disappeared.
Recognizing the persistence of the criminal as artist does not diminish the role of
the investigator. Running parallel to the scientism of observation, rational thought
investigator
deduction,,
the
that
emphasized an artistry of
was an undercurrent
and
that was analogous to the talent and invention of the criminal.

23

In the same Conan

Doyle tale, Holmes admits, in respect of his elaborately stylized resolutions of


for
insistently
'Some
the
touch
a wellof
artist wells up within me and calls
crimes,
is
Holmes
(1981,78).
therefore a transitional stage, not quite
stagedperformance'
but
insists
aestheteor scientist,
on artistry of presentation to embellish
someone who
crime solving.

The detective'sdesire to be seenon a par with the creativity of the criminal has
graphically resurfaced in the incarnation of profiler. Robert K. Ressler has underlined
the importance of interpretation in his work, opposing it to a set of learned criteria,
and so proclaims 'profiling remains an art and not a science' (Ressler and Shachtman
1992.157). Further, with an artist's sensibility, Ressler insists upon not hearing
other

opinionsbefore viewing the crime scene(1992,206). Associating himself with the

21,
The failuresof such scientific thought as phrenology to identify observable
signs of criminality,
probablycontributedto the need for the additional quality in the investigator.

-209-

in
the
basis
its
has
latter
but
the
fears
the
where
contamination,
profiler
crime scene,
for
creative
fonner
the
(physical
need
the
suggests
pollution),
scientific
independence.
The reciprocity between criminal and investigator has frequently manifested
itself in detectivenarrativesin the form of the doppelgdnger.Memorably, the theme
(William
Graham
Will
Dragon),
its
Red
(and
Manhunter
to
where
remake
central
is
has
Noonan)
(Tom
Tooth
Fairy
inside
who
the mindset of the
Petersen)tries to get
been staging his murder victims with pieces of mirrors on their eyes. By mentally
lowering his guard, Will replicates the killer's thought process and discovers clues.
But in order to reactivate his ability to think the thoughts of the killer, he has to

24
The
Cox).
Lecktor
(Brian
incarcerated
Hannibal
serial murderer,
consult with an
his
Lecktor
leaves
Lecktor
Will
to
thoughts,
own
and
vulnerable
entering
meeting
deny
he
had
him
Will
'just
that
the
that
they
to
challenges
only reason
caught
was
are
alike'.
In other films in the subgenre, the treatment of the doppelgdnger is more in
keeping with the tradition of the detective story doppelgiinger, with the policeman
becoming a criminal. The implication is not the pollution of criminality, but the
inadequaciesof the legal system, and therefore the necessity to break the law to catch

the criminal. Prevalentas theseasPectsof the doubling are in the artistic serial killer
subgenre, the sense of the doppelgdnger is most strenuous in respect of the
investigator's ability to read the killer's work. Consequently, the mise-en-scene of

the crime scene becomesmore than spectacle, for it fonns the central puzzle or
enigmathat structures the narrative. The suspensecomes from attempting to read the

cluesplaced by the killer, and the expectation of more of these clues through the

Vanhunterusesthis spelling of the character's name,


The
Silence
whilst
,
of the Lambs, Hannibal
andRedDragon use Lecter. I wi II retain the difference.

-210-

constitution of seriality.

Alison Young, writing before most of the films in the subgenre were made,
broader
defining
crime
of
have
foretold
range
a
of the tendency when
seemsto
Warshawski).
I.
V.
Marlowe,
Philip
depicting
Holmes,
(including
those
and
stories
Noting the trend of the investigator discovering clues via minute examination and
body
form
the
a
Young
'an
as
that
forensic work,
combines
aesthetic
recognizes
the
of
trauma
the
event
witnessing
of
with
and
signs
repository of clues

is
but
interpretation,
Fleck
Patrice
(1996,79).
aware
makes a similar
victimization'
is
killer
killer.
Fleck
by
the
the
that
the
serial
work of
states
of the active part played
6atype of language or mode of communication that gives clues to his identity and his
films
in
'are
9).
Fleck
(1995/6,3
And
these
the
as
continues,
narratives
moral project'

bodies
learning
detectives
"read"
(and
to
the
marks on
audiences)
structuredaround
brutality'
first
be
to
which at
seem
arbitrary and senselesssignifiers of spectacular
(1995/6,39). More than forensic evidence, the body becomes the artistic serial
killer's material to perform the clues. Consequently, as well as the body being
marked, it is deliberately staged and displayed to form conceptual art. The body is
graphically controlled, as is its meaning. Like the tattooed body, the victim's body is

body
a
encodedwith meaning.
For Fleck, the relationship between criminal and investigator is teacher to

student, with the detective learning the language from the killer's instructive
displays. In other words, the killer retains all control. But G.K. Chesterton's
description that 'The criminal is the creative artist; the detective
only the critic,
seemsmore apposite (in J. Black 1991,41). Yet, in many ways, the view is still too

dis"nissiveof the role of the profiler or surrogateprofiler. David Lehman is


more
complimentarywhen he argues'the criminal is an artist, the detective an aesthete
and
a critic. and the blundering policeman a philistine' (in Simpson 2000,74).
-211-

justice
as
the
system
investigator
Correspondingly, the profiling
works outside
is
to
Jolie)
(Angelina
Amelia
Thus,
obliged
by
lumbering
FBI.
defined the
police or
into
fallen
has
the
Police
Captain
because
in
The
Bone
Collector
the
of
stealevidence
is
found
fingerprint
the
killer's trap of thinking that a
crime scene the murderer's.
at
leads
fingerprint
to
deliberate
in
Se7en,
another victim
As
only
where a similar

(whoseseveredhand had beenusedto createthe false trail), Amelia plays the role of
blundering
The
incorrect
the
the
policeman
clue.
of
syntax
recognizes
and
critic,
however,cannotreadthe signsleft for him, and only discoversa body with a missing
from
far
Freeman),
(Morgan
Somerset
Se
7en,
in
Amelia,
finger.
the case of
and

beingthe studentsFleck describes,are exceptional scholars,and are able to interpret


the hieroglyphics of the killer; the reason for the slow progress is due not to
deciphering.
Thus,
but
the
time-consuming
see
repetition
where
others
education,,
investigating critic sees creativity, and what looks like mindless mutilation, is
killer
is
his
The
crimes.
serial
controlled, and so are
rationalized composition.
A repercussion is the application of meaning to the acts of the serial killer, deeds
that are frequently classified as inexplicable. There is a security in such a belief, for

the work or art at the crime scene is made understandable.Writing in 1993, with
I lannibal Lecter in mind, David Thomson states: 'It is so often our killers now who
are blessedwith wisdom and insight. They are the only characters allowed to turn to
philosophy or talk for the sake of talking' (14). From Detective Somerset in Se7en

onwards,and with traces in Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs, the statementno
longer holds true. The investigator or profiler now ponders and ruminates as he
or
she interprets the crime scene. Consequently, the investigator can demonstrate
his/herequivalent insight by explaining the meanings in the crime scene
art to us the

spectators(we are presumed to fall between his/her capabilities and those of the
philistine law enforcement workers). Such a formation has the potential for an
-212-

bizarre
the
however
crime,
detection:
treatment
of crime and
reactionary
exceedingly
is
beyond
deductive
reasoning.
nothing
With
the
killer.
back
the
to
The rise of the profiler as critic sendsreverberations
for
the
is
there
interpretation
the
focus
potential
a
events,
of
placed
on
narrative
death
the
have
the
in
Barthesian
of
be
the
we
sense,
to
overshadowed;
murderer
both
its
killer,
the
of
through
Se7en
anonymity
the
via
eclipsing
engageswith
author.

in
himself
his
a
turning
with
Doe,
his name, John
an everyman nobody, and via
be
two
has
His
film
to
with
the
concluded
still
which
work,
remaining.
of
quarter
fore.
the
Sins,
to
Deadly
Seven
the
more
to
even
comes
complete
murders
more

Thus,he demonstrateshis control over the crime scenes,but also the seriesof crimes.
Some films in the subgenre still seem governed by the detective story's structuring
Daddy,
Bone
Collector,
killer
(The
Bone
identity
discovering
the
the
of
premise of
Messiah and Ripper). But like Se7en, both Copycat and Manhunter understate the
killer as a character, with the denouement being the resolution of the puzzle, not the
exposureof the criminal.

In spite of the discrepanciesover how the serial killer is made known, the
is
does
him,
the
subgenre
situation made more pronounced
not concentrateon
and
through very little of the violence taking place onscreen; instead, the detective or
images
have
As
the
the
the
profiler narrates
of
crime scene.
we
seen,
past events via

the texts require a unique person to decode clues and infonn the audience.Unlike
Young's grouping of sleuths and examiners in literature, the artistic serial killer
subgenre puts little faith in the purely scientific (forensics, databases, pseudo-

scientificprofiles), in its place, the evidenceis there to be read, and therefore needs
to be explored in detail. However. for the investigator (and criminal) to be deemed
extraordinary.the clues need to be visible but simultaneouslyconcealedor masked.
At thesemoments,the victim's body is the site where the two jostle for control. The
-213 -

in
the
knowledge,
earlier
is
as
scientific
not
the
veiling agent
subgenreuses specialist
formatsof the detectivefiction, but that of high culture.

The Cultured Serial Killer


by
his
Elwes),
killer,
Casanova
(Cary
name
In Kiss the Girls, the kidnapping
obtains
has
he
lover,
to
from
being
far
But
leaving a signed note at a murder scene.
a great
kidnapwomen, keep them in a harem, and, in pursuit of further control, demandthey
female
deaths);
in
lack
love
him
(a
him
their
they
as a
tell
of conviction will result
doctor states,'he doesn't know his history. The real Casanova,would never have
foreing
his
is
in
the
'
His
taste
of
partieularly
also
question,
sense of
approved.
fact,
for
his
In
in
hold
the
the
to
appreciation.
nude
concert
a
musical
women
captive
but
Casanova
Gentleman
Caller
(Tony
Goldwyn),
also copycats
who aids
upper-class
him, criticizes his style. Arriving at his lair, which is set into the underground slave
disdainfully
he
'subterranean
that
the
quarters of a plantation,
comments
gothic
[look] went out a while ago'.
As a serial killer, Casanova does not quite cut the mustard, a fault perhaps due to
him being a collector not a proper killer. But it also seems to relate to him being a
blue-collar cop: a worker not a thinker. The film too underplays the artistry element
of the subgenre (except in respect of copycatting, and the elaborately tied bodies).

Consequently,in the few crime scenes shown, control is not foregrounded by


deliberately displayed clues. But the character of Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), a
tIorensicpsychologist and writer of true crime stories, emphatically fits the bill of the
investigator aesthete. ' The film's

lack of display leaves it on the cusp of the

subgenre,but its playing with the perceptions of taste and class point towards the
25The
notion of detective as critic is highlighted even more in Along Came a Spider (Lee Tamahori,
LISA.2001),where Morgan Freemanreprisesthe role. Although not featuring
a serial killer, the
kidnappingcrime
if
it
is
was a murder scenein an artistic serial killer film, with
scene played out as
cluesdeliberatelyplaced to be read by the investigator.

-214-

the
on
delineation of the serial killer as a cultured artist. But with the emphasis
investigatoras critic, it falls on him to be an arbiter of tasteas well.
by
of
the
is
vista
Evans)
(Art
Mendoza
In White of the Eye, Detective
confronted
handheld
compositions,
tracking
A
overhead
brutal
shots,
murder. combination of
a
In
the
white,
gaze.
puzzled
tilts
and zooms suggest an omnipotent
and abrupt
distinctly
blouse,
liquid,
full
bowl
a
kitchen,
and
a
orange
of
goldfish
a
modemist
kitchen,
in
Elsewhere
the
broken
high-heel
microwave.
shoe, rest on a
positioned
Mendoza lifts a protective sheet of polythene and unveils a saucepan containing
knives
four
bag.
Surrounding
in
fleshy
the
point
pan,
a
plastic
material
ominously

blood
design,
the
forming
work
white
smears
and
red
compass
vicious
a
outwards
batons
by
blood
is
Framed
On
wooden
shown.
a wall, more congealed
surface.
behindpolythene, the camera rotates as if beholding modem art and attempting to
determine which way up it should be. Acting as a canvas, a table, complete with
blood,
has
inkblot
next to which, are a pressed rose, an onion
pattern of
spotlight,
an
4.7).
(figure
and a stick of celery

Turning to his colleague,Mendoza announces:'I know a goddamn work of art


when I see one. Didn't you ever look at a Picasso, LucasT 'Picasso, my ass,' is
Lucas's (Bob Zache) reply. Undeterred, Mendoza persists: 'We're talking postCubist Picasso. Or maybe even later. ' The detective's comment is punctuated by

Lucasdemanding,'Why should I look at a goddamnPicasso?I'm a medical man not


a goddamn hippy. ' As we have established, art and medicine, far from being
irreconcilable, have a common heritage stretching from da Vinci to von Hagens. But

Lucas'scommentsbetray more than his ignorance. Mendoza reproachesLucas for


being a bore: someone he 'can't even hold a civilized conversation
with'. The
tripartiterelationshipof murder artist, detective aesthete,and policeman (or all those
not the detective) as philistine is verified. In particular, at stake are the 'civilizing'
-215-

-. AIL

Figure 4.7 Murder scene as modernist canvas in White of the Eye

interpretative
high
incorporated
in
Of
the
the
example are
culture.
course,
aspectsof
form
for
(and
(a
of
philosophy) required
non-representational art
very elitist
skills
high culture). The indecipherability of modem art is made even more apparent in
Se7en. At the Greed murder scene, a photograph of the victim's wife has blood
circles around her eyes that suggest she has, or can, see something. When shown
crime scene photographs, she identifies that a piece of modem art has been rehung
upsidedown. Looking behind the painting, the detectives find the message 'Help me'
written in fingerprints. The handiwork is then itself displayed, being framed by four
ultraviolet tubes, as if replacing the painting (figure 4.8). The image is a stark
recognition of the serial killer as artist. And by the fingerprints being a clue to the
next crime scene,they indicate the killer's control of this murder and the series.
Although Mendoza's comments are striking, there is little else that would situate
Whiteofthe Eye in the artistic serial killer subgenre; the meanings in the
art are not
seen as explicable, the relationship between the investigator and the killer is not
expandedupon, and the killings are given equal status with the post-death crime

scenes.But the scenementioned above is so indicative of the later concerns of the


-216-

Figure 4.8 Framing the serial killer's


Se7en

artwork

in
Greed
murder scene
at the

it.
formation
important
be
film
of
embryonic
regarded as an
can
subgenre,that the
The standardsencapsulated in Mendoza's comments, those of the significance of
leaming,
knowledge
high
interpretation
display
and
the
culture via acquired
of
and
The
the
throughout
most advanced example of
subgenre.
occur with great regularity
later,
(and
Lambs
in
The
Silence
is
Lecter
killer
Hannibal
the
the artistic serial
of
Hannibal and Red Dragon). In Manhunter, Lecktor is softly spoken, manipulative
it
is
in
But
highly
knowledgeable
the subsequent screen
and resourceful.
and
Lecter's
by
Hopkins,
Anthony
that
refinement and
appearances,when portrayed
finessecome to the fore. As a psychiatrist, (a standing reinforced by the title Doctor),
he is defined as university-educated. Through his sketches of the Duomo from
fine
intimately
he
is
disclosed
memory,
art, and a cultured man
as a creator of
acquaintedwith the rich artistic heritage of the capital of the Renaissance. He even
speaks the language of the elite: Latin. Genteelly, he presents fine manners to
Clarice. and states, 'Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me'. Even whilst murdering,
he exhibits highbrow concerns: when he ate the liver of the census taker he
complementedit with Chianti and fava beans, and his killing of the police guards in
Memphis. merely interrupts his absorption in the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach.

-217-

All thesetraits define his class.


Gumb.
James
killer,
Lecter effectively operatesas a binary opposite to the other
body.
his
his
to cover
Whilst Lecter is a cannibal and ingestshis victims, Gumb skins
More especially though, juxtaposed to Lecter's witty complexity and refinement,

displays
is
has
from
is
no sense
Gumb
the country,
a pronouncedaccent, simple, and
In
Manhunter,
of good manners.

Dollarhyde

(the Tooth Fairy)

too lacks

life.
in
his
everyday
sophistication and social skills

Gumb and Dollarhyde have more in common with anotherdepiction of the serial
killer: the unambiguously working-class, under-socialized individual. Evident in
films such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Kalifornia (Dominic Sena, USA,
1993) and Freeway

2:

Confessions of

Trickbaby

(Matthew

Bright,

26
USA/France/Canada, 1999), the white trash killer acts on impulse. Kalifornia is
interesting because of the pairing of a redneck serial killer Early Grace (Brad Pitt)
his
Yuppie
Brian
(David
(Juliette
Lewis)
Adele
with a
writer
and
girlfriend
Duchovny) and his photographer girlfriend Carrie (Michelle Forbes) who are touring
famous murder sites to research a book. Like a profiling investigator, Brian narrates

the now desertedmurder scenesinto a dictation machine,but as Early points out, the
between
gap
academic art and serial killing practice is too great for any book to have
meaning. This subtle critique of profiling is voiced more adamantly in Henry:
Portrait of a Serial Killer. As Henry (Michael Rooker) instructs Otis (Tom Towles)
on the finer arts of serial killing, Henry states,
If you shoot somebody in the head with a 45 every time you kill somebody,
.
it becomes like your fingerprint, see? But if you strangle one, stab another,
one you cut up, and one you don't, then the police don't know what to do.
They think you're four different people.

'(' Frcewqv2: Coqfessions


is
Trickbah
a relative rarity becauseof its depiction of female serial
of a
'v
killers,but its heritage in the fairy tale Hansel
and Gretel perhapslocates it in a different tradition.

-218-

What Henry advocates and practises is a random modus operandi and a random
However,
investigator.
as
detection
keep
him
beyond
to
the
a
profiling
of
signature
Philip L. Simpson rightly argues,Henry's avoidance of leaving decipherableclues
but
"everyman"
him
'as
serial
rather an
not so much a criminal genius
classifies
killer. His lower-class bluntness contrasts directly with the elitist, manipulative
HannibalLecter' (2000,138). The subgenreusesthe artistry of the killer at the crime
He
body,
display
his
in
to
terms
the
superiority of control.
of
scene, especially

dictateshow the crime will be solved, but also controls the meaningsto be derived
from them. For the status of serial killing artist and genius, the killer needs to leave
intellect.
Where
display
his
highbrow
control via
clues, play games, and above all,
Henry is impulsive but practical, the artistic killer is an intricate planner and a

maestroof the theoretical.


Returning to The Silence of the Lambs, Yvonne Tasker has noted that: 'Lecter's
is
different;
both
his
his
time
senseof
palpably
speech and
movements are careful
and measured' (2002,8). Lecter oozes efficiency and order by way of his controlled
demeanour and almost regal pacing; but any sense that his refinement is merely
hereditary is removed because Clarice is consulting him for his knowledge. His
classical pursuits (music, art, poetry and fine cuisine) mark him as a possessor of
what Pierre Bourdieu termed 'cultural capital' (in Haralambos and Holborn 1991,
267-269). Lecter has access to power via his knowledge because he has been

socializedinto the dominant culture: he possessesinformation and proficiencies that


areesteemedin society. Indeed, Bourdieu characterizeda discrimination againstthe
working class through values placed on 'nuances of manners and style' (in

Haralarnbosand Holbom 1991,268), and it is these traits that personify Lecter.


Culturalcapital, via its associationwith the dominant culture. privileges the learning
of the upperclassesand undervaluesthose of the working-class culture. Education is
-219-

it
because
although operatesas a supposedlyneutral
seenas perpetuatingthe elitism
knowledge
internalized
have
it
favours
the
of
those who
skills and
meritocracy,
dominant culture in their preschool years.
In the context of acquiring educational capital (formally sanctioned cultural

in
frequently
itself
how
it
the
the
subgenresituates
capital), should not go unnoticed
learning.
Clarice,
'not
although
and
more than one generation
of
academia
world
from poor white trash', and therefore lacking much cultural capital, receives
is
from
her
Lecter
Jack
Crawford
twin
mentors of
whilst she
and
specialistcoaching
27
is
in
FBI
Ripper
Academy.
the
set a college where studentsstudy serial
educatedat
killers and the lecturer has written a book 'proving' the identity of Jack the Ripper.
In Copycat, the film begins with Dr Hudson giving her lecture, and the film ordains
her specialist knowledge to be beyond the scope of ordinary police. In Hannibal, it is
Lecter giving the lecture as librarian at a Florentine archive, his subject matter
highbrow
dominant
In
Blowback,
killer,
the
the
perpetuating
values of
culture.
serial
Whitman (James Remar), was once a respected biblical scholar, and his chief
pursuer, Inspector Morrell

(Mario Van Peebles), had studied to be a priest,

in
for
has
his
learning
Bible
the
that
memorized
so
awe
of
word
word, and
a partner
in
is
The
be
his
Similarly,
Amelia
Bone
Collector,
'honoured'
to
she
new assistant.
respects the academic ability

her
Lincoln
new partner,
of

Rhyme (Denzel

Washington), or 'The textbook guy' as she calls him.

The written word is especiallyprized in the subgenre.A book and its writer drive
the narrative of Bone Daddy; Alex Cross's status in Kiss the Girls is confirmed by

his authorial credentials ('the best-selling crime author has arrived'); the written
highlights
Se7en
in
list
Dr
features
Copycat,
Hudson
Nvoi-k
a
canonical
of
and
of texts
27Lecter
he
her
Clarice
to
to
student
status
when
notes she only has a
admit
at one point obliges
temporaryFBI pass. In the context of TheSilence of the Lambs, Patrice Fleck's model of the killer as
teacheris correct. but it is an unsatisfactory template for the whole subgenre.

-220-

Lost
Paradise
Milton's
Tale,
and
Parson's
including Dante's Purgatory, Chaucer's
Se7en
Indeed,
journals.
Doe's
John
St Thomas Aquinas's work, as well as
own
founded
the
Having
hierarchy
learning.
on
proposed a seriality
out of the
constructs a

SevenDeadly Sins, Somersetbegins his researchin the reified atmosphereof the


heritage
library;
the
and
the
space
suggest
and
echoing
columns
substantial
closed
in
body
His
for
being
the repository
only company
of wisdom.
mankind's
gravitasof
knowledge'
'a
Somerset
the
are
uniformed guards who play
of
world
calls
what
by
by
(offered
Bach's
String',
'Air
Diegetically
a
up
on aG
accompanied
poker.
28
for
'),
Somerset
'How's
the
this
the
examining
culture?
we
see
phrase,
guard with

dwelling
Dante,
Chaucer
the
on close-upsof words and
and
with
camera
works of
phrases,as well as the accompanying engravings, which establish the properties of
the books and their allied culture. Through crosscutting, the film shows Detective
Mills simultaneously puzzling over pictures of the crime scene. Whilst Somerset
finds potential meaning in the written texts, which he photocopies for his colleague,
Mills finds only images in the photographs, and so watches basketball on television
instead.Mills's lack of cultural capital is played out in the following scene, where he
resorts to Cliffs

Pass Notes having been exasperated when trying to understand

Dante's own writing.

Later too, the educational differences of the partners are exposed. When
Somersetnotes Doe's referencing of The Merchant of Venice at the Greed murder,
Mills dismissesit with, 'Didn't see it', as if it was a movie of the week. Mills also
mispronouncesde Sade as if he was related to the soul singer Sade, and Somerset
corrects Mills's potential line of thinking when he hesitates suspiciously over the

book Qf Human Bondage, the implication being it might indicate an interest in


28The fact
that 'Air on aG Sting' is the more familiar title for the Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in
D major, indicatesit is part of the samegroup of popular classical music that we saw in Boxing
Helena,\N-here
the notoriety enforces the classical properties.

-221 -

killing).
to
film,
serial
BDSM (which, naturally, in a Hollywood
would correlate
William
learning
Even their names signal their different standardsof
and acumen.
Somerset not only has a surname that suggests the end of summer, therefore
but
from
to
a
his
knowledge
also
end,
about
career
a
gleaned
wealth of
replicating
full name that forms the first two-thirds of the author of the novel Of Human
Bondage.David Mills, by contrast,evokes labour, treadmills and the plodding grind
Mills
differences
Doe
thus
too,
the
when
seems aware of
of the police philistine.
is
he
(thinking
Sloth
his
Doe
the
to
a prying
at
crime scene
name
spells out
is
is
'
What
Doe
'I'm
though,
puzzling
retorts,
surprised you can spell.
photographer),
Doe's position in relation to learning. As I have suggested, his name indicates

his
based
Seven
but
the
seven connectedcrimes, each
on one of
everymanstatus,
Deadly Sins, and each requiring intricate planning, make him extraordinary. Indeed,

Somersetshows admiration for Doe, noticing how controlled he neededto be in the


Sloth murder case, where he kept his victim alive for a whole year. Thus, Somerset
declares, 'Imagine the will it takes'. However, Doe's apartment, full of his tightly
journals,
badly
he
is
taken
written
photographs, suggest
and
an autodidact, and
perhapslacking some cultural capital.

RichardDyer has studied these layers of cultural understandingand has argued


that the film 'addresses us as people familiar with high culture' (1999,73).

For

example,recognizing the Pass Notes requires us to have had a college education, and

theconfusionover Of Human Bondagenecessitatesus to be acquaintedwith the title


to get the resonanceof the joke. Dyer thus postulates that the referencing of high
culturegives Se7en'a respectability [and] lineage' (1999,73) that films like Maniac
andTheSilenceof the Lambs do not approach.Although true, the reading only gives
Partof the relationship.

if
laying
(and
claim to) their referencing of art and high
-ks acknowledging
-222-

films
killer
title
their
as
it
is
credits
the
use
that
serial
culture,
noticeable
many of
Further,
film.
from
images
the
but
the
narrative of
abstracted,
collagesof significant,
Bone
The
Se
7en,
(see
frequently
fused
theseare
or overlaid with the written word
film
intricate
its
Ripper).
With
Collector, and
yet rough coalescing of scratched

distorted
bleached
deliberately
of
close-ups
and
of
victims,
photographs
and
stock,
to
John
Doe
(all
from
texture
tightly
the
add
which
of
written meanderings of
pages

Se7en's
but
film
title
body
the
the
the
rich
are
glossed
over
amidst
mise-en-scene),
of
killer.
Even
the
take
the
the
the
themselves
credits
sequenceestablishes mindset of
form of scratched, jumpy writing, and align the information with the hand of John
Doe, who in various images is seen constructing a cacophony of collages and written
texts of his own. The words do more than imply cultural capital though; they
in
the
theme
the spectacle of
articulate
subgenre's consistent
of meaning residing

is
there
a needto read the crime scenesto understandthem.
suffering:
We should recognize the deployment of cultural capital in the artistic serial killer
subgenre is another potentially reactionary trend. By pointing to an extraordinary
enlightenment and grasp of high culture, the serial killer is made inconceivably
dangerous.His intellect and cunning are constructed as if with no bounds. But there
is surety simultaneously operating. Such a person, with so much potential is, by

definition, rare, and by implication, serial killers are rare. In other words, the reality
(or acceptedprofile) of the serial killer, which is of a white male with slightly above
averageintelligence, has a potential pool of millions, but the artistic serial killer can
only come from a minute source. Such people must therefore be very scarce.
Further, that the killer is controlled and guided by cultural capital also makes

him containable. becausethe same precise and prized cultural capital offers the
solutionto his puzzles/crimes. The murders therefore require expert knowledge to
solvethem. Thus, the crimes reference classical texts (Se7en). religion (Messiah,
-223-

Resurrection and Se7en),art (The Bone Collector, Hannibal and The Silence of the
Collector,
Bone
(The
history
Collector)
(The Bone
Lambs),
and the written word
for
Some
Ripper).
toy with popular culture,
Bone Daddy, Copycat, Kiss the Girls and
Bone
(The
fiction
Ripper)
killer
(Copycat
and
and pulp
example the cult of the serial

Collector), but they persist in equating it to specialist education. These films move
is
located
from
Manhunter,
the
where
profiler
as a somewhat magical yet
away
him/her
his
instead
as an
situate
mind association, and
scientific character via
have
investigator
deductive
learned
The
to
and
cultural critic.
ability of an
extremely
(or rapidly attain) the same cultural and educational baggage as the killer, performs a
for
justifying
for
investigators
the
need
as saviours, and confinns
useful argument
their capacity to restore order.

For all the reassurances,we cannot ignore the aestheticizedcontrolled body that
looms large in the subgenre. The anagrams that Lecter uses in The Silence q?f the
Lambs are peripheral but indicate his analytical mind. When Clarice goes in search
of Miss Hester Mofet (or Miss The Rest of Me), she finds the decapitated head of
Benjamin Raspail preserved in a jar next to the headless mannequin posed in
womeWs clothes in the back of a limousine. Not killed by Lecter, who 'merely
tucked him away', the artfully staged scene (and discovery), in all its organic decay,

is reminiscentof Salvador Dali's Raining Taxi (1938), which featuresbewigged and


bemaskedmannequinsinside a water dousedcar overrun with foliage. Although the
wordplayleadsto the theatrically presentedhead, it is the head itself, with its garish
make-up,and the neighbouring female couture, that are the clues to finding James
Gumb.It is this artful display of evidencethat the subsequentfilms in the subgenre
built on, for the anagrams,enigmas,and meaningsare spelt out in the bodies the
of
Victimsat the elaborate crime scenes.Names of sins may be written in blood and
greaseat the murder sites, and biblical referencescan be located in the bodies, but
-224-

but
the
of
is
the
art
death
the
act;
The
also
clue,
these are mere titles.
manner of
As
for
be
but
it
blind,
dazzle
but
clues.
read
still
overwhelm
must
not
suffering must
is
it
but
the
is
killer
have
astute, assuredand controlled,
seen,the artistic serial
we
We
body
in
therefore
is
the
that
the
subgenre.
primary controlled
aestheticizedvictim
in
becoming
the
the
artistic
the
to
narrative
spectacle
consequencesof
need explore
killer
subgenre.
serial

The Aesthetics of Suffering


John A. Walker in Art and Artists on Screen has described how for many people in
the Western world, 'art has now replaced religion as the source of spiritual or

describe
"'the
that
transcendental
opium of the
art
as
experiences',and
a cynic would
intelligentsia"' (1993,11).

The belief in works of art being revelatory, but also

biasedtowards the cultural securities of the intellectual elite, is pertinent to the


for
killer.
far
from
But
the soporific effect of a narcotic, the
aiming
artistic serial
murderer's objective is to shock complacency. The killer's challenge is therefore to
is
David
Freedberg,
the
the
retain
splendour when
overwhelming reaction revulsion.
in The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response, has

it
is too troublesome
'if
[it] is not a
the
characterized acceptedview of art as,
...
been
has
displayed
(1989,422).
Traditionally,
the
work of art'
not
a place of
gallery
emotions, but a location for quiet reserve and genteel appreciation of the aesthetic
qualities. Thus, art is usually perceived as intended to inspire or raise spirits, but not
provoke and overpower. Freedberg's work attempts to collapse the imposed
distinction between the religious or magical powers of art, and those supposed to be
purely aesthetic, and so reinstate the power of art to elicit over-whelming and

uncontrollableresponsessuch as revulsion, devotion and disgust. His theoretical


restorativestudy is put into practice by the artistic serial killer.
'125
-

itself,
in
is,
a product of
Freedberg's interest in the unsettling properties of art
dominant culture. When the fascination for the disturbing and startling properties of
it
demise
an
into
the
remained
the
patronage,
of
religious
margins with
art moved
Viennese
Surrealism
(e.
for
intellectual pursuit
and
various art movements g.
Jenny
Serrano,
Hirst,
Andres
including
Damien
More
Actionists).
recently, artists

for
brought
the
have
brothers
Chapman
taste
Saville and the
a
once more
itself
locates
killer
the
fore.
The
the
to
within
troublesome
subgenre
artistic serial
lineage
by
fascination
but
historicizes
interest,
the
the
of artistic
exploiting
renewed
(usually religious) suffering, and so enhances the depiction of the cultural capital of

29
the killer by showing his awarenessof the heritage.
To incorporate highbrow culture into murder, many films in the subgenre turn to
the long tradition of religious paintings. The imagery has the twin attributes of
learning
is
A
third
and creativity.
element similarly significant: paintings
connoting
If
the
though
can suggest
activity of suffering, even
static. we think of the various
depictions of St Sebastian, his body tied to a tree and arrows piercing his flesh, he
passively exhibits torment. The stasis is partly a result of the restraints, and the
impassivity of a martyr's suffering, but the result is an image of suffering

undisturbedby the blur of action. The artistic serial killer film achievesa comparable
stasis by not showing the event of suffering, but instead depicting the posed

aftermath.The very stillness enhancesour awarenessof the control over the body: it
is posed,framed and rich with meaning that would be clouded by movement. The
paintedmartyr epitomizesthe aestheticizedspectacleof the controlled body, and the
29An
exception, The Cell, attemptsto mine predominantly contemporary representationsof unsettling
art. I noted in Chapter 3 that the serial killer in the film suspendshimself by hooks through his flesh in
anemulationof the Body Play associatedwith Fakir Musafar. In addition, a vertically segmented
horseis reminiscentof work by both Hirst and von Hagens. But by situating most the film
of
within
themind of the serial killer. a place resembling the setting of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and
theQuay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles (UK, 1986), the phantasmagoricrather than the cerebral is
induced.Further, highbrow
culture is lost to the popular culture effects of MTV-style rapid cuts,
advertisingchic, and an emphasison surface not substance.

-226-

filmic subgenre draws heavily on its iconography.

the
Lecter
include
films
in
Some
the assault:think of
attacking
the subgenrestill
the
is
in
in
Memphis.
But
the trauma of that scene
greater evidence when
guards
4-1
draped
Hanging
find
back
Lecter
the
to
cage,
on
supposedly gone.
cameracomes
(figure
his
body
Boyle
is
bunting,
the eviscerated
with
arms outstretched
of
with
4.9). The crucifixion

in
image
the
iconographic
is
the
of suffering
shape
most

Westemworld. In The Silence of the Lambs, the image carries someof the weight of
the tradition, but it also forms two clues. The tableau resembles a butterfly, the
linked
but
in
to
Gumb,
this
transformation
also
scene,
associated
with
symbol of
Lecter, becausehe has disguised himself with the facial skin and clothes of one of
the guards. Stressing the need to read the display for clues, we see the vignette three
times: first through the frosted glass, then via a shot where the camera pulls back
from the body to give the complete tableau, and then once more as a policeman tends
to the man he thinks is the other guard. Thus, the display intrigues, shocks and

misleads,but all within a familiar context of suffering and art.


Outside the Rules, a two-part BBC drama lives up to its name by not conforming
to the subgenre model of displaying the murder scene. However, it has a novel way
indicating
of
contemplation: the recovery of regressed memory. A serial killer
nicknamed The Carpenter is crucifying his victims. In one attack, Tom Meredith

(Tim Dutton) survives,but is forced to watch and participate in his wife's execution.
A female forensic psychiatrist, Natalie Vine (Daniela Nardini), is brought in to help

Meredith remember any details he has tried to erase from his memory. Natalie
specifically asks for pictures not words, and so a form of contemplation exists via his

recounting.Bfief flashbacksof the assaultare shown, but are narratedby Meredith in


the third person in a manner akin to an investigator of a crime scene. Events
are

piecedtogether until Meredith recalls having to read a script given to him by the
-227-

Figure 4.9 Iconic tableau of suffering in The Silence of the Lambs

killer: a 'signature'

that demonstrates the killer's

complete control.

In the

handiwork
dialogue,
killer's
Meredith
the
saying,
serial
congratulates
orchestrated
'That's lovely. It's beautiful.... Susan might give you ten out of ten. ' The equating of

fresh
killer's
is
the
the
to
the
murder, a
crime scene not
alone; at
site of a
art
detective asks of Natalie, 'Care to express an opinion on the artwork? ' Later too, the
discuss
how
killer
be
'taken seriously as an artist'. It would be
to
the
police
needs
fair to say though, that few clues are arrived at through an appreciation or application
of cultural capital, even though the depictions rely on referencing Christianity. The
samecould not be said of Blowback Resurrection and Messiah,,which all exploit the
credentialsof the faith.
The iconography of Blowback is resolutely beholden to depictions of the
inartyred saints. The film opens with a woman crucified on an inverted cross.
Dressedin a cloak like a monk, John Matthew Whitman fires a nail from a nail gun
into her hand. Uncomfortably blurring eroticism with non-consensual violence, the
bare-breastedwoman screams 'I'll

do anything you want; the attacker responds,

'His will be done.'


-228-

Inspector Morrell and a colleague enter the building and search their way
Morrell
body,
On
icons
the
throughthe maze of altars, candles,
seeing
and crucifixes.
down.
'A
He
'St
Andrew.
the
crucified
upside
scene:
was
reads

note stating

Morrell
inside
dead
is
from
11:
22'
the
taken
'Proverbs
now
woman's mouth, and
immediatelytranslatesit for the other detective: 'As a jewel in a swine's mouth, so is
killer,
discretion.
battle
'
In
beautiful
the
the
the
without
woman
ensuing
with
a
killed
is
is
before
Morrell
floor,
the
capturing
and
partially crucified on
colleague
Whitman.
The opening establishes Morrell as both mentally and physically superior to
Whitman, although scarred mentally and physically (pseudo-stigmata). Indeed, the
film proceeds with Whitman being executed in a gas chamber. However, a secret
government agency clandestinely revives him, and brainwashes him into being an

instantly
Whitman
in
assassin.
absconds,and goes searchof the judge, jurors, and
lawyer
(Morrell's
prosecution
ex-wife) who combined to sentencehim to death.
Whitman's overarching seriality is dictated by the alphabetic order of the names
his
is
Morrell
of
victims.
coupled with him through their knowledge of the Bible, and
by being similarly turned on by eroticized violence (Morrell's ex-wife guesses he

'must be back on a case' when they have passionatesex). The closenessenables


Morrell to perceive the broader scope of the targeted victims, and to suspectmore
thana copycat killer.

Whatconfinns Blowback's place in the subgenreis the structureand depiction of


the deaths. Whitman, when nearly captured by Morrell, complains, 'You're forcing

me to changethe order of kill. ' In other words, part of the creativity and control is
the sequence.Each murder that is part of the sequence is also imaginative, for they

all takethe form of martyred saints. Furthermore,although Whitman's initial attacks


on someof the victims are shown. the subsequentartistry is withheld until Morrell
-229-

investigates. When the foreman of the jury is the first person to be attacked.
is
blow
hammer
Whitman closesthe garagedoor, and the scenecuts away after one
Considered
in
Murder
'On
De
Quincey's
The
as
to
narrative
effect correlates
struck.
One of the Fine Arts: Postscript in 1854'. With the serial killer John Williams having

house,
De
Quincey
to
states:
a
gainedaccess
Meantime,at this point, let us leave the murderer alone with his victims. For
fifty minutes let him work his pleasure.The front-door, as we know, is now
fastenedagainstall help.... [W]hen all is over, let us come back and read
...
the dreadful record of all that haspassed.(I 897c, 85)
Whenwe, as spectators,return to Whitman's murder scene,it is with Morrell and his
is
is
first,
Detective
Monica
Ricci
(Sharisse
Baker).
At
that
seen a
all
new partner
is
if
body.
blood,
Ricci
has
But
the
the
corpse
and
asks someone
moved
pool of
hanging from the rafters, its intestines stretched out and wound around a hose reel.
Instantly, Morrell declares 'Elmo',

but the philistine police chief, Captain

Barnett (David Groh), 'corrects' him, saying his name is Edward Ackers. Morrell
is
had
St
Elmo
Patron
Saint
Sailors,
his intestines wound
that
the
explains
of
and
has
heard
him,
Ricci
thus exposing a lack
around a windlass.
proclaims she
never
of

30
knowledge.
While
the senior officer gags and covers his mouth with a
of classical
tissue,Morrell probes the body (figure 4.10). Suffering is writ large on the body, but

the control is in the detail. The sceneis quite literally read for clues; hidden in the
mouth of the victim is the quotation reference 'Corinthians 15:21', which Morrell

recallsfrom memory. His actions and knowledge define Morrell as special; even
though later in the film he attempts to persuade Ricci that he's 'a regular guy; no
betterthan you', his cultural capital disproves the opinion.

At the next murder scene, he recognizesthe woman, who has had her breasts
removed,to be modelled on St Agatha, before continuing with a history lesson
TheCell also recreatesthe martyrdom of St Elmo, and relates it to a postcard of a painted
version.

'130
-

Figure 4.10 Inspecting the suffering of 'St Elmo' in Blowback

because
Bell-ringers
her
Patron
Saint
they
the
that
of
early scholars made
explaining
believed the depictions of her carrying her breasts on a platter actually showed bells.
His knowledge has applications too, for although the victim is staged exactly
killer
is
location
desires,
body
killer's
the
the
the
to
the
and
artistic
where
according
detective aesthete battle for intellectual control. It may take the duration of the film,
but Morrell will be the person to comprehend the full significance of the quotation
know
did
he
had
'For
the
they
this
clue at
not
scripture, yet
murder scene:
as yet
for
it
is
from
dead.
'
For
the serial
the
risen again
scripture we can substitute script,

killer's sequenceof murdersthat Morrell will detect.


With the resurrected Whitman copycatting his own murderous signature, the film
correspondsto the repetition structure of Copycat and Messiah II. - Vengeanceis Mine
(wherepast crimes that have been solved by using forged evidence are restaged with
relativesof the corrupt officials as victims). Ending with Morrell's wife on a crucifix,
Morrell again defeats Whitman, killing him with a combination of bullets
and a
crucifix fired from a crossbow. By impaling him on a cross, and referring to
Wiliti-nan's violent upbringing, Morrell stages his death: St Tarsus, the Patron Saint

-231 -

of abusedchildren.
However,
Resurrection, like Blowback, is concerned with religious suffering.
in
Lambert)
(Christopher
Prudhomme
in
Detective
Morrell
Blowback,
unlike
Resurrectionhas to work to decipher the clues. In a less elaborate version of the
As
books
in
Se7en,
Prudhomme
the
to
with
library scene
crimes.
solve
pores over
31
Somerset,he is an aesthetewho can appreciate the genius of the crime scenes.
Prudhommerecognizesthe planning and artistry, and can, like De Quincey, separate
his moral and aestheticreactions to murder: 'I admire the intellect, not the action.'
Thus, there is a pleasure, of sorts, in pain.
The first body discovered is a man called Peter. Thirty-three, and an owner of a

fleet of fishing boats, he is found tied to a chair in a room describedas 'ripe', with
his right arm missing. The significance of the malodour should not go unnoticed.
Smell is the immediate sensorial response at many real-life murder scenes, and the
in
(remember
this
the
to
captain
recreate
visual medium of cinema attempts

Blowback,and think of Mills sniffing the bucket of vomit at the Gluttony crime in
Se7en). Strange marks are found on the body, and seriality is forewarned in the
bloody messageon the window: 'He's coming'. Perfectly still, the body is examined,
and the doctor confirms, by the volume of blood, that Peter was alive when his arm

wasremoved.
Like Prudhomme,we attempt to read the body for clues. Unlike the murderous
attack in a slasher film, it is less easy to avert our eyes, for we may miss the vital
pieceof evidence that Prudhomme may refer to later, or even miss. By necessitating

Resurrectionborrows liberally from Se7enin other respectstoo: the lack of light at the crime scenes
(NNhich
is commentedon), a persistenceof rain (including when the sun is shining), and neon cross.
Resurrectionalso repeatspart of Se7en's narrative by having the killer aiming to punish the
bv attacking
"INestiggator
zn his wife. Thus, the killer, having gone to the Prudhomme's home, tells him,
'Your penitenceshall be remorse: remorse, for the death of your wife' (although by mistake he has
kalledher friend). Of
films
is
killer
having
the
the
two
unites
most
an all-encompassing
course, what
prqjectformed by a seriesof linked, stageddeaths.

-232-

killer
just
the
controls
look,
body
film
as
to
gaze,
the
our
control
our
uses the
Prudhomme's attention. To enjoy the film we must enjoy the aestheticized pain.
that
imagine
the
to
events
Whilst examining, we are given an extendedopportunity
to
longer
detail
the
need
the
we
the
the
scene,
crime
at
more
elaborate
unfolded;
Alison
As
lengthy
justifies
killer
look. The artistic serial
therefore
contemplation.
our

licence
her
to
his
fiction,
in
literary
detective
in
describes
the
Young
or
respect of
by
is
the
intimate
the
in
to
look and open all
secret, enjoyed
places and eavesdropon
in
Even
(1996,92).
the
the
artfully
of
context
powerfully
more
guilt
without
reader
duty'
(Young
it
by
killer,
'voyeurism
the
a
makes
serial
staged suffering created
1996,92).
32
It comes as little surprise then that the voyeurism extends to the autopsy. Again

it
body,
detailed
the
the
endured:
pain
accounts of
with more
we scrutinize
for
killer
him
in
blood
to wake
the
the
revealing
waited
exsanguination,endorphins
into
flesh,
key
before
Roman
the
the
numerals marked
and a
shape
up
severing
arm,
fits
into
into
knowing
how
it
Without
the
etched
an overall scheme,
skin.
quite
Prudhommerecognizes the simplicity of the motive: the killer 'wanted his arm'. The
indentation of the key helps confirm the view: it is quite literally a body modification
coded with meaning. Tracing it to a station locker, a rare flower inside leads

Prudhommeto the body of Matthew Leeson, which is buried in a botanical garden.


An InternalRevenueServiceworker, Leesonhas had his left arm removed,and again
hasRoman numerals marked into his body. To repeat Alison Young's comment, here

we have 'the body as a repository of clues' (1996,79). The next body is displayed
moreprominently: Jamesis found decapitated,his head missing, and seatedon the
toilet, or as a cop puts it, 'on the throne for dramatic effect'.
Theopeningmurders of Resurrection and Se.-en are very similar. Both begin with body tied
to a
a
chair,a hidden messagein the room, and an autopsy following the scenethat provides additional
clues.

-233-

Although Prudhomme puzzles over the numerals, it is the victims driving


licence photograph that enlightens him. Examining the shoulder-length hair and
'The
later
face,
he
iconography,
familiar
guy's
the
proclaims,
and
recognizes
gentle

discovers
body
he
Christ.
'
Further,
of
the
the
occupations
and
names
of
rebuilding
the victims match the respectiveapostles,they all died on a Friday aged thirty three
did,
if
limb
Christ
the
the
serial
week,
a
and
continuing
at
same
rate
of
obtaining
a
as
killer will complete the body for Easter: resurrection. Thus, the iconography of
individual
is
based
imagery.
Christian
And
the
once again
on
although
suffering
it
is
Se7en's,
that
clear
are
not
as
aesthetically
pleasing
as
made
abundantly
murders
death
into
Turning
them
talent.
as evidenee of
art aestheticizes the
we should read
pain.

For Prudhomme,the murders come at a moment of crisis in his faith becausehis


has
been
killed.
he
has
However,
his
(David
to
turn
to
child
run over and
priest
Cronenberg)to help solve the riddles of the Roman numerals (Biblical chapters and
verses).The priest's scholarly input leads Prudhomme to the next victim, who is a
photographer. The killer is still present when the detective arrives, and he merges
life-size
figurative artwork by posing in his mask within a frame; the serial
the
with
killer artist becomes conceptual art. Unable to save the dying victim, who dies in his
arms, Prudhomme and his colleague, Hollinsworth (Leland Orser), pursue the killer.
However, in a dark rainy alley, Hollinsworth is attacked (again similar to Se7en,

whereDoe assaultsMills), and the police are tricked into believing he is the killer
andshoothim in the leg. Later, the serial killer stealsHollinsworth's amputatedlimb
to replacethe one he had to leave at the studio. His theft makes the revelation near
the end of the film all the more resonant,for whilst searchinga house, Prudhomme

-234-

33
discoversall the body parts reassembledinto a crucified body (figure 4.11).
At the crime scene, smell is once more emphasized,with men vomiting and
insect
blue
flies
hitting
flashes
the
of
covering their airways, and the noises and
decay.
In
of
the
some
version
of
reverence,
a
gruesome
of
exacerbating
sense
zappers

to
bow
down
idol
forced
they
to
the
to
struggle
the men are effectively
as
constructed
in
(figure
4.12).
Prudhornme
the
a series of Pointapproaches, and
scene
cope with

in
but
inspectors
icon
West's
a
of suffering,
of the
of-view shots,we are situatedas
is
by
By
being
that
now,
enhanced
a composite of other suffering.
version
looking
for
inquisition.
Prudhomme's
to
the
clues,
pans match our eager
accustomed
his
leg
partner's
via the gaping wound enhances the alertness to pain.
recognition of
In reverse shots, a captivated Prudhomme blinks, unable to take in the magnitude of
the spectacle. Called to another room, he finds a bank of video recorders playing
footage of the crucifix on a television. Accompanying the broadcast is a commentary
by the killer in the manner of a television evangelist. The whole room resembles a

ModemArt video installation. The effect is to confirm the statusof the serial killer's
work as art. But the accent remains on the memorable iconography of pain.
Along with the numerous candles and crucifixes in the house, a shrine contains a

multitudeof depictions of Jesuswith a visible heart. Once more, high art provides a
clue,andPrudhommededucesthe killer is searchingfor a new baby born to someone
called Mary. Tracking the killer to a hospital, Prudhomme saves the infant when the

murdererstabs his palm: like Morrell in Blowback, he receives the stigmata. The
killer dies, falling anns outstretched, and Prudhornme regains his faith by saving the

11Misteria
""
also features the creation of a body from body parts, but these all belong to one person who
hasdied, and the
parts have been given as transplants to different recipients who had to be murdered
to retrieve them. AN gritos tiene la noche/Pieces (Juan Piquer Sim6n, SpainfUSA/Puerto Rico, 1982)
is closer to Resurrection, featuring body
from
different
bodies being collected and assembled
parts

"'to onebody. What distinguishes Pieces is that the killer correlates the creation of the body with his
completionof an actualjigsaw, which features a naked woman. Thus, for each limb he collects, he fits
thecorrespondingpiece into his jigsaw.

-235-

Figure 4.11 Amalgam of suffering in the crucified body in Resurrection

II

Figure 4.12 Overcome by the venerable iconography of pain in Resurrection

being
(in
is
inconsequential
But
to
the
unconvincing); the
addition
child.
ending
for
killer
is
the
the
the
artistic serial
inspection of
closure,
nearly completed project
film is a fusion of violence and detection that encourages voyeuristic pleasure from
interpreting the rituals and patterns of the murderer. Thus, the referencing of saints,
the Bible and divine suffering plays on both cultural capital, and the very structure of
Christian worship. Like the High Baroque, the spectator is encouraged to 'participate

in the ecstasiesof the saints' (Murray and Murray 1989,22), but within the context
-236-

Edgerton
Y.
fitting.
Samuel
is
argues
The
the
anatomical artist.
conjunction rather
of
fact
in
is
Renaissance]
Florentine
[in
body
the
'Anatomization
the
that:
criminal's
of
himself
transubstantiator'
dissector
the
of
role
the
assumes
a sort of sacrament;
(1985,213). The serial killer artist is merely reversingthe tradition.
Coming two years after Blowback and Resurrection, Messiah has elements of
Each
killer.
is
Once
both.
again, a traumatized cop confronted with an artistic serial
in
their
is
the
twelve
and
the
names
and
apostles,
of
one
of
style
murdered
victim
is
Messiah
distinction
The
(or
jobs
of
prime
attributes) correspondto that apostle.
is
It
the
is
it
two
end of
only
near
that
minute
episodes.
seventy-five
constructed as
St
discovers
Stott)
(Ken
DCI
Red
Metcalfe
first
the
a statue of
episode, when

Bartholomew,that a link is made between the murders and the apostles;an earlier
by
been
found
flayed
had
Although
Bart,
only partly glimpsed
alive.
victim, named
torchlight, the body, with its skin dangling from one hand, is a graphic realization of
both the statue, and Gunther von Hagens's posed Plastination with Skin (figure 4.13).
Having four other victims already, the DO realizes the potential for seven more
literally
learned
by
displays.
help
With
the
crossing
gruesome
of a
cleric, and
through the apostles on a photocopy of Leonardo da Vinci's the Last Supper (1498),

it is determinedthese would include Andrew crucified on a saltire and Simon the


zealotbeing sawn in half. Thesefeatures,and the commentthat 'Seven men will die
if we don't get this right', end the first episode;the serial killer in a serial, can offer
theseas forthcoming attractions.

In addition, Messiah references crime scenes to art within a framework of


highbrow interpretations. At the second murder site, Metcalfe asks his colleague,

'What do you seeT He is not asking what he can observe,but what he can interpret.
ksa critic, he hasto conclude what the image means.But it is Metcalfe who narrates
the eN,
ents in minutiae from the scant evidence. A rival detective snidely notes his
-237-

mom

Figure 4.13 Plastination with Skin by Gunther von Hagens


it
did
for
is
tell
'All
to
go
can
we
and
us
who
you
now
we
need
stating,
perfection,
home.' Metcalfe therefore conforms to the archetypal investigator of the subgenre:
he is the intelligent aestheteto match the creative genius killer.
The following scene acts as a companion piece to the murder scene to highlight
importance
the
the
the comparison of art and murder, especially
reading of signs and
Metcalfe's
Across
mute wife uses sign
of cultural capital.
a crowded gallery,
languageto explain a painting: 'It's the coming together of the artist's respect for
in
21"
his
his
forces
destructive
the
century
wreaks
on
natureand the
very presence
killer,
but
it
has
'
The
to
the
serial
environment.
artistic
comment obviously applies

her
'AndT,
function.
Metcalfe
When
another
she elaboratesby
with
an
questions
stating'Load of bollocks, at which point the scene abruptly ends. The purpose of the
interactionappears to be to stress a language of communication based on images and
not words, both paintings and sign language. But it also accentuates how imperative
-238-

it is for an accurateinterpretation by the critic: the very function the detective plays
killer's
the
art.
alongside
In spite of the direct comparisonwith art, the artistry of the murders in Messiah
is foundedon a different cultural capital: knowledge of religious suffering rather than
is
films
in
The
true
the
the
subgenre.
same
of
most
of
representations.
pictorial
Se7en's death scenes relate to themes of the Seven Deadly Sins, not classical
have
does
(for
Bosch).
Hannibal
by
them
example
contrast,
representations of
Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) hung from the Caponni library in a
both
Pazzi's
the
an event and a painting:
relatives.
execution of one of
recreation of
The vast projection of a slide of the painting precedes the murder (figure 4.14), and
the artistic heritage of Florentine statues surround the detective's body when he is
34
hung (figure 4.15). Although memorable, the event forms only a small part of the
film. One film in the subgenre though, The Bone Collector, does concentrate on
but
bear
little
these
recreating actual artwork,
relation to high art, and none to
religious iconography.
In The Bone Collector, New York detective and leading criminologist Lincoln
Rhyme (the name suggests the intellectual properties of a wordsmith) is injured in
the line of duty. As a bedridden quadriplegic, he controls his apartment via a host of

computerconsoles,monitors and voice-activated systems;these are the limits of his


world. However, when a fresh-faced, eager policewoman, Amelia

Donaghy

discoversthe mutilated body of a man who had been abducted with his wife,
she
becomesRhyme's eyes, ears and other sensory organs beyond the confines
his
of
home. Before even knowing him, she achieves the feat: by following

strategies

suggestedin the textbook he had written, she preservesvital evidence at the crime
34Thesubplot the investigation the
of
of
serial killer 11Mostro is largely missing from the film version
of Hannibal, but cut scenesshow Lecter advising Pazzi to spot similarities between a posed victim
andBotticelli's The Birth of Venus.

-239-

his
Figure 4.14 Attack on Rinaldo Pazzi silhouetted against a painting showing
Hannibal
in
death
ancestor's

Figure 4.15 Rinaldo Pazzi in a recreation of his ancestor's death amidst the
artistic heritage of Florence in Hannibal
'a
When
by
Rhyme
textbook,
the
thought
she
states
she"s
not
site.
of
what she
asked

book critic', but as she admits, she found it useful; the investigator as critic
reappears.
Reading the clues gathered by Amelia, Rhyme states: 'I'm convinced that this
crime scene was staged. Perp"s trying to tell us something. ' A tom book page

-240-

4
9h),
(November
piece
9
the
a
'119'
is
day's
date,
11:
on
prn
circled
that
and
number
the
form
killed.
to
be
These
the
indicates
clues
the time the wife will
of newspaper
faint
is
but
the
tiny
a
with
of
paper
section
clue
part
of
overarching
crime,
an
next
found
later
they
it.
Combined
two
scenes,
crime
at
other portions
with
mark on
is
face,
'An
turn-of-the-century,
publisher's
which
old,
a
woman's
a
picture:
produce
it
both
based
is
jigsaw
logo.' A
arts
and associatedwith the written word,
puzzle that
high
Although
dime
books
the
low
to
the
novel crime
and not
culture.
status
relates
image is assembled by Rhyme's nurse (a jigsaw connoisseur), it takes his eclectic

knowledgeto identify it. Like a modem day Sherlock Holmes, Rhyme has collected
his
in
databases
dirt,
hubcaps
into
metal, plants,
and musical strings
and catalogued
is
impression
Consequently,
there
time.
an
of cultural capital.
still
spare
Tracing the publisher's logo, they find a novel called The Bone Collector.
Accompanying the story is a collection of engravings of crime scenes, and they are
the murders that have been replicated by the serial killer (figures 4.16 and 4.17).
Indeed,it is these images rather than the story that the film implies have been copied,

for the camera dwells on the images, and the book is not read for more clues.
However, these are not the high culture of individually created religious art found in
Blowback, Messiah, Resurrection, Se7en or even Hannibal, they are images from a
lowbrow medium featuring mechanically reproduced imagery. The mass production
and repetitive process of both the type of literature and engravings may appear more
fitting for seriality, 35 but the appropriateness does not carry the resonance of
suffering that the Biblical references provide; an image of a steam pipe pointing at a
bound figure conveys little notion of the pain to follow. Perhaps this is why The

BoneCollector, unlike most films in the subgenre,spendsconsiderabletime on the

In the samecontext. we could think of Elsie's mother in Fritz Lang's M buying the next chapter
of a
serialfrom a door-to-door salesmanwhilst she awaits the return of her missing daughter.

-241 -

Ao
%,

ilo
01%.
t
Figure 4.16 Artistic inspiration for murder in The Bone Collector

Figure 4.17 Staged recreation of death in The Bone Collector


torment of the victim before the staged deaths: the woman tied to the pipe is seen
awaiting her fate and pleading as the killer ominously rolls down her sleeve, and a
later victim is shown screaming as the killer cuts into him, as well as being savaged
by rats. The film seemsto feel the need to offer the suffering that the crime scene is a

referentfor. It is as if the subjection and control of the crime scene tableaux is


inadequatewithout the artistic legacy. Lacking culturally accepted concepts of pain,
it refersto itself.
To legitimize and compensate for the lack of cultural grounding, the filmmakers

tum to heritage.The subterraneancrime scenesare stagedaround old New York: the


WOolworth'sBuilding, a disused slaughterhouse,and an abandonedsubway
station.
-242-

Rhyme's apartment has visible brickwork, water pipes, and a visiting peregrine
falcon, which is explicitly noted as being attractedto the architectureof New York's
'Mister
is
described
killer
first
buildings.
Furthermore,
the
as
the
serial
victim of
old
"Rebuild New York"'. The inclusion of thesereferencesis more than mere windowdressing,it pinpoints the archaeologicalaspectsof crime: the needto isolate strata of
beneath
the surface.
to
eventsand perceive
When Amelia is talked through examining the second crime scenevia a radio
link to Rhyme in his bed, she is reminded that 'crime scenesare three-dimensional'.
The concepts of depth, layers and even dirt are all important to the crime scene,

barriers
in
The
Bone
dramatically
Quite
to
the
critical investigator's gaze.
suggesting
Collector, Rhyme's gaze is restricted (by being bedridden), so Amelia is both a
for
him
in
darkness,
flashlight
illuminates
her
As
the
and us.
she proceeds
surrogate
found,
dust,
decay.
body
is
Even
the
when
we
only small patches of
metalwork and
struggleto see it through the steam, and like Rhyme, we wish Amelia would describe
what she sees rather than stand mutely dazed. To justify her (and our looking),
Rhyme reassuresAmelia by saying the only way she can help the victim now is by
-working the crime scene'. We watch Amelia being repeatedly tempted to look at the
scaldedbody tied before the open steam pipe, and the corresponding reverse pointof-view shot has the camera tracking ever closer to improve our vision of the
spectacle.

Clues are found in the form of hair, wood and a bloody bone shard. Amelia
wantsto leave, but she still has to 'process the body' (in the context, a phrasethat
suggestsprocessed meat). Hers is a duty of voyeurism on behalf of Rhyme, and we
areobliged to look too. We are offered a series of point-of-view close-ups as Amelia

describes'old shackles'. a chain around the fatality's waist, roped feet, and a large
chunkof flesh removed from the arm. The spectacleof suffering, like those of the
"43
-

Christianity-styled deaths,is founded on the contemplative look. The killer's control,


in
body
it,
dismiss
the
demands
(and
the
read
and
must
we) cannot
artistry,
she
via
(on
the
is
for
held
for
is
The
our scrutiny
clues.
subject static, and each shot
pain
the
it
is
The
Amelia's).
the
and
old,
aura of everything
conjunction of
pretext
drowning),
by
include
deaths
(the
the
uses
rats and
others
gnawing
primitivenessof
for
Substituting
if
iconography,
implication,
the
of the torture chamber.
not the exact
the Biblical iconography, it also evokes familiar expectations of pain. The artistry

have.
The
little
beauty
films
has
the
that
the
therefore
art of
senseof
some of
other
for
but
is
killer
the
the
crucial
remains prevalent,
evidently, certain cultural capital
transformation of horror into art. The fact that the killer is a corrupt forensics cop
(having fabricated evidence), and has been working as a medical equipment
technician for Rhyme, in other words, not part of the same cultural elite as his
is
by
film.
His
is
for
had
Rhyme
the
the
ending of
patient, exposed
motive
revenge,
testified against him. Thus, when he finally attacks Rhyme, he claims, 'I played
you.... I gave you every clue.... You failed. ' But he too fails as a player. He has no
artistry planned for Rhyme, only to cause a vegetative state for him (something
Rhyme was determined to avoid via imminent suicide). His failure, thanks to Amelia
arriving just in time to shoot the killer, leaves the film lacking any overarching

fon-nalsplendourof murder.
It is apparent that The Bone Collector is less concerned with beauty, and more
intent on stressing witnessing, and the art of detection. Through Rhyme being
restrictedto his room, a style employing high overheads of the city, and a specific

shotthat is an incredible combination of three zooms to go from an attack by the

-244-

36
be
bed,
to
his
in
theme
killer
the
observation
in
Rhyme
seems
the
to
.
serial
street
If
by
The situation is very much like a panopticon, stressing control
surveillance.

Bone
The
it
looking,
duty
that.
the
was
of
or
underscored
a
structure
institution
ever
look
the
desire
(and
investigator's
to
at
Collector operatesas a validation of the
our)
the
Not
killer
about
the
the
some
so concernedas
artist.
serial
victim of
suffering of
film
is
the
of
the
the
pleasures
as
any
about
adamant
as
artistry,
exquisitenessof
Collector
The
Bone
What
deciphering
therefore
the
the
clues.
scene and
reading
but
beauty,
be
killer
is
about
need not solely
suggests, that the artistry of the serial
that it forms part of a pattern of control founded on knowledge and enforced
for
body.
devastated
However,
the
the
the
aestheticsof
part,
most
of
observation
for
killer
in
the
announcing
artistic serial
subgenre are crucial
recognizable suffering
the control. For the control to be declared by the posed body rather than the act of
in
ideally,
be
killer
the
versed the aesthetics of pain.
should,
murder,

The Power of Images and the Pain of Knowing


As we have established, the subgenre makes voyeurism a duty for both the
investigating critic and the investigating (and the mentally and emotionally invested)
depiction
But
in
the
the
spectator.
mostly
avoided,
and
our
absorption
of
attacks
with

thepursuit of clues when we examine the prone victim, do the films seekto divorce
linked
from
in
devastation
body?
Is
to
the
the
pain
our pleasure any way
suffering
of

the body? Or is the body lost behind a veil of potentially meaningful clues and
information?

WhenMr Blonde (Michael Madsen)tortures the cop in Reservoir Dogs (Quentin

Interestingly,Phillip Noyce has said that his inspiration for the triple zoom came from a shot in
anotherserial killer film, namely Hitchcock's Frenzy (UK, 1972) (seeNoyce's commentary on the
UK releasein 2000 of the DVD of The Bone Collector). It would also seemappropriate to
note that
theoverall structure of the film, Nvithan incapacitatedmale, and a female acting as his surrogate eyes
is not dissimilar to Hitchcock's Rear Window (USA, 1954).

-245-

Tarantino,USA, 1991),the severingof the ear is not shown. And yet, the force of the
dissimilar
it.
In
is
too
manner.
they
traumatic,
a not
see
many spectators claim
act so

images,
but
full
the
Se7en
murders
of
none
gruesome
of
often
perceive
as
audiences
take place on screenuntil Doe is killed by Mills at the end, whilst the actual murder
form
little
total
time.
the
that
screen
shown,
of
are
scenes
It is often cited that it is more frightening not to seehorrible things than to see
does
in
imagination'.
But
for
'worse
things
there
not
them,
such a strategy
our
are
in
brevity,
be
In
the
the
their
the
spite of
crime scenes
aim of
subgenre.
appearto
Se7enare all-pervading via their luscious attention to formal beauty, but also their
in
forgotten
importance;
image
be
the
the
the
of
scene cannot
constant narrative
death
in
film
for
(and
a slasher
can,
we must mentally
sometimes visually)
mannera
in
body.
Furthermore,
dwell
them
the
the
wake of new clues.
we
ravaged
revisit
upon
The stasis of the aftermath of murder allows the spectator time to sensorially interact
with the image, a process that involves more than the imagination running riot.

Linda Williams in her article 'Film Bodies: Gender,Genreand Excess' considers


horror films, pornography and melodramas as being body genres: films that 'both
portray and affect the sensational body' (1991,4). Furthermore, although other film
genres such as musicals and comedies also affect the spectator's body, what
distinguishesher trio is 'the perception that the body of the spectator is caught up in
an almost involuntary mimicry of the emotion or sensation of the body on the screen'

(L. Williams 1991,4). Indeed,the very 'successof thesegenresis often measuredby


the degreeto which the audience sensationmimics what is seen on the screen' (L.
Williams, 1991,4). For the most part, the murder scenesin the artistic serial killer
subgenrecan be regarded as being included within the category of the horror film,
tor they are frightening moments organized around dread and suffering,
with
intermittentdramatic revelations intended to shock the audienceor make them wish
-246-

is
f
37
how
what
body
eel
be
we
might
deemed
it
is
Therefore,
if
to
genre,
a
to recoil.

seenon the screen?


imagine
it
is
difficult
else's
how
to
from
know
someone
We
our own experiences
World
Unmaking
the
Making
The
Pain:
in
Scarry
The
Body
of
in
Elaine
and
pain.
hear
have
is
to
have
'To
about
to
certainty;
has concisely articulated the gap as,
pain

in
is,
knowledge
inability
The
doubt'
(1985,13).
to
have
pain
is
of
share
to
pain
V.
by
Building
language'
(1985,4).
on work
Scarry'swords, due to its 'resistanceto
C. Medvei, Scarry elucidatesthat a structure of referents is used to articulate pain.
highly
to
a
Thus, we either refer to an external agent, such as a weapon, or resort

is
like
it
feels
for
I
damage;
bodily
my
arm
say
could
example,
of
concept
visualized
hanging off. Whilst the slasher films invoked both types of referents, but lingered on
),
for
fingers,
blades
knives,
former
(gigantic
etc.
the
chainsaws, gloves with
carving
latter
disfigured
The
killer
films
the
the
the artistic serial
corpse.
referent of
rely on
have particularly contrived displays that are intended to express the pain of

victimhood.
Joe Coleman, the notorious painter of serial killers, has contrasted his
cathartically produced canvaseswith the work of actual murderers, stating 'there are
has
be
The
to
types
that
certain
expression
equal to the pain,
need expression.
of pain
has
to be as extreme' (in Fuchs 2002,16).
it

On a narrative level, the acute

punishmentsin the films I have discussed reach the intensity necessary to enunciate

the pain, as well as the killer's control over the victim. But I believe the
contemplationof the viciously violated body, albeit within a frarnework of searching
for clues,allows a more complete sensory response to the expression of pain.

Laura Marks in 'Video haptics and erotics' (1998) offers a responseto video
3 Of
37
course, the subgenre does not exclusively fit into the horror genre. Also, it conforrns to the crime
stor%,
and police procedural narrative, and some of the films can be categorized as 'colour noir' (a
loosecategory defined by film's
attention to the atmospherics of light).
a

-247-

by
imagesvia tactile impressions,rather than optical recognition. Examining work
Kim-Trangg
T.
Tran
Cho
Seoungho
including
Benning,
Sadie
and
videornakers
like
function
Marks states the following: 'In haptic visuality, the eyes themselves
from
draws
Haptic
to
term
touch.
optical visuality,
contrasted
a
visuality,
organs of

The
(1998,332).
kinaesthetics'
forms
touch
and
primarily
experience,
of
sense
other
is
for
Marks
haptic
is
incidental
though,
the
to
concerned
quality
not
medium
video
focal
due
distortion
to
image
(a
the
to
texture
graininess or pixelation, a
a
with
length, and properties of contrast and exposure). Consequently, Marks contends that,
'Haptic cinema does not invite identification with a figure so much as it encourages a
bodily relationship between the viewer and the video image' (1998,332). Of course,
the films of the subgenre I am investigating have highly individuated points of

identification in the form of the victims, but Marks's work is not redundantto my
study.
In the frequent close-ups, the damaged body parts are isolated and can take on a
limbs
for
in
beyond
identification,
the
various
shown
separately
presence
example,
the crucifixion scene in Resurrection are reminiscent of the initially unidentifiable
it
is
in
However,
Ballard's
Crash.
to
wound
complete crime
more usually,
neck
scenesthat function as aesthetic manifestations of suffering, and only subsequently,

do we individuate the elements and recognize the details of the corpse. In other
words, we sense a beauty (and pleasure) of the pain and revulsion of the image, not
the narrative function of the scene. Se7en is perhaps the film that comes closest to
creating the moment as haptic cinema via its textural properties. Cinematographer

DariusKhondji and director David Fincher used a technique of resilvering which


resultsin desaturatedcolours and rich denseblacks. Furthermore.a quite strict range
of colours was used (mostly creams. yellows, greys, beiges and browns) in
conjunction with visible source lighting that struggles to penetrate the gloom of most
-248-

to
match
had
their
signatures
interior shots.The crime scenesthemselves
colour
own
failing
torches
is
Gluttony
the
an underexposedview of
their crimes:
greasyworld of
'like
described
i
i
has
Khond
hue
as
brown
has
that
Sloth
the
to pierce
a green
gloom,
depicted
is
Lust
1995,40),
Williams
E.
beingunder the bottom of a river' (in D.
and
light
flashes
brothel
of
with
white
punctuated
the
a
cheap
environment
of
as red neon
have
tangible
Even
beat.
the
techno,
almost
an
shots
exterior
to accompany
first
dominating
the
consistency and oppressiveness, with virtually relentless rain

director
film.
The
the
and
cinematographer,
two-thirds of the
combined work of
be
Se7en
designer
(Arthur
Max)
that
textural
could
presence
a
gives
production
describedas prompting haptic visuality. The images, and not just the subject matter,
for
in
is
But
Se7en
the
most
subgenre,
essentially an exception
make our skin react.
in
less
formal
films
their
the
are
quite
conventional
eloquence,
and
other
possess
of
filmic texture. However. all films in the subgenre have a capacity to address the
spectatorviscerally as well as visually.
Vivian Sobchack in 'What My Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subj ect, or Vision
in the Flesh' (2000), also argues that film 'viewing'

is a carnal and sensual

experience,as well as a visual (and of course, aural) one. Noting how we talk about
films touching us and moving us, yet film theory has been reluctant to engage with
suchnotions, Sobchack proposes that:
we do not experience any movie only with our eyes. We see and comprehend
and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and
knowledge of our sensorium. (2000)38

As a heightened example, Sobchack analyses the opening shot of Jane Campion's


19933
film The Piano, where slender, bumpy shafts of blurred luminous pink oscillate
18
. NelsonGoodmanmakes much the samepoint about works of art when he states: 'What we know
throughart is felt in our bones and nerves and muscles as well as graspedby our minds, that
all the
sensitivit,and responsivenessof the organism participates in the interpretation of symbols' (in
Freedberg1989,25).

-249-

image,
her
the
before
eyes could recognize
acrossthe screen. Sobchack statesthat
fingers
her
fingers
her
sensedits meaning. The objective reverseshot confirms what
knew but her eyes did not: Ada was looking through her fingers; the pink lines were
her
'body's
Sobchack
her
this
digits,
them.
her
calls
view of
and we were seeing
"scene")l
hence,
(and,
but
the
the
seen
reflexive comprehensionof
prereflective
(2000). Sobchack's argument correspondsto David Freedberg's description of the
disturb
'in
that
to
some profound sense ... precede
via responses
power of art
(1989,
xx).
context'
The ambiguity of the opening image in The Piano may suggest that Sobchack,
like Laura Marks, is particularly concemed with the textural characteristic of the
image, but this is not so. Sobchack theorizes that some images can supplant direct
identification with 'the sense and sensibility of materiality itself (2000). Examining
from
film,,
the
where Baines sits under the piano and touches Ada,
another scene

Sobchackfinds that:
At that moment when Baines touches Ada's skin through her stocking,
suddenly my skin is both mine and not my own: the 'immediate tactile
shock' opens me to the general erotic mattering of flesh and I am diffusely ambivalently - Baines's body, Ada's body ... the 'film's body, ' and my
'own' body. (2000)
Although I would not take such a phenomenological approach as Sobchack, her idea
is illuminating. As with Freedberg, Sobchack is arguing that a concentration on the
tonnalism of a text (be it a film or a painting) saps it of its sensorial impact. The

crime scenesof the artistic serial killer subgenre,need to be read formally for
evidence.but other clues reside in the sensorialresponses.It is these very reactions
the investigating critics seek from the crime scenes.

In Allanhunter.Will Graham states, 'I tried to build feelings in my imagination


like the killer had'. he had to make himself vulnerable to emotions to decode the

-250-

be
the
Rhyme,
Similarly,
in
Collector,
The
Bone
at
who of course cannot
crime.
in
feel,
felt,
the
know
Donaghy,
'I
to
tells
what you
what you
crime scene,
want
' There are limits though. In Se7en, Somerset
deepestrecessesof your senses.
by
from
he
is
'We
have
divorce
the
to
ourselves
emotion', and
vindicated
maintains,
failure of Mills's approach of feeding off his emotions, which only lead him into
Doe.
But
Somerset's
his
does
sensorial
comment
not prevent
confrontation with
is
he
Richard
has
As
Dyer
just
Somerset,
is
'It
that
pinpointed of
engagement.
not
but
he
in
for
that
the
terms
approaches
crime
which
erudite,
of meaning, a meaning
he has a feeling' (1999,11). Dyer continues via an examination of the library scene I

describedearlier, and states 'Somerset seeks to gasp the sense of the murders'
(1999,11). The choice of words is telling, even if unintentional: to feel the crime is

to understandit; the senseis in the sensation.


When Somersetand Mills reflect on the Greed murder (in which the lawyer
Gould is forced to cut off a pound of his own flesh), the senior partner begins to

sensethe crime:
The killer would have wanted Gould to take his time, to sit and decidewhich
cut to make first. Imagine it: there's a gun in your face. Which part of your
body is expendable?
Somersetattempts to 'look through' the corpse and 'Edit out the initial
shock'. He

discoversthat the killer is preaching via forced attrition not atonement,therefore the
performed crime scene is directed towards the victim's subjugation, fear and
enduranceas evidence of the killer's control. Surprisingly, Dyer attests that Se7en
seeks'to avoid the reality of the victims' experience' (1999,60); it is a strategy of

denial that he advancesas a feature of most


killer
films
(see Dyer 1998).
serial
Although I concur with the general premise. I believe Dyer is imprecise in his

phrasing,at least in respectof Se7en,and most of the other films in the artistic serial

-251 -

in
the
is
killer subgenre. Certainly, the victim as a subject virtually non-existent
but
subgenre, the experienceof victimhood seemscentral.
Examining Se7en as an example of the subgenre, we find the prolonged
the
to
body
victim's
the
the
our
attention
confine
scene
murder
and/or
on
meditations
'Only
killer
films.
Yet,
Dyer
for
longer
than most other serial
attests:
much
suffering
("he's
Victor
doctor's
the
experiencedabout as much pain and suffering of
words on
the
begin
I've
the
take")
to
of
perspective
open up
encountered, give or
anyone

Victor,
if
However,
(1999,60).
the
we
of
case
on
we
only
concentrate
even
victim'
find the processbeganmuch earlier, back at the Sloth murder scene.The camera,like
body
Victor's
decaying
insect
the
revealing sores
setting suggests, crawls along
an
is
bulbous
The
the
the
eighteenth
of
of
ecorches
raw
skin
reminiscent
veins.
and
frigging
kind
SWAT
'It's
the
team
of
even remarks,
some
century, and a member of
holds
Somerset
(figure
4.18).
up photographs that offer
wax sculpture or something'
disintegration
body,
degeneration
Victor's
Mills
the
and
and
of
a chronology of
hair,
fingernails
if
d'art,
jars
they
as
scrutinizes specimen
of
urine and
were objets
but with our knowledge they must have been forcibly extracted. The doctor too has
more to express, describing the deterioration of Victor's spinal muscles, his brain

beingmush, and how he had chewed off his own tongue (a processthat indicates a
multiple act rather than the swift singular action biting implies). I wonder how many
spectators,without consciously thinking of it, sensedtheir tongue at this moment of
the film, or when Somerset combs the hair up the wrong way on the Gluttony corpse
felt prickles on his/her neck (figure 4.19).

Thesemoments,and severalothers,appearto replicate Sobchack'sdescription of


a reflexive but prereflective moment. Even on the mortuary slab, when the opening
ciose-upshot abstractly transforms the body into marble-like flesh of purples, blues
and ellows,the sense of victimhood persists alongside the beauty; the bloody
-252-

li

Se7en
in
Sloth
the
Figure 4.18 Victor resembling an ecorche at
murder scene

Figure 4.19 Attempting to make the hairs on the back of the spectator's neck
Se7en
in
Gluttony
head
by
the
the
murder scene
at
stand up
examining
bursting
Doe's
the
under
assault
stomach
stitching and the subsequent comment of
is
being
between
is
border
The
this
unclear, and
pre- or post-reflective
ensurethis so.
it
However,
to
strikes me that the scenes are very
is not really of great concem
me.
if
identity
the
the
the
even
artistry,
much about
victim's experience as a property of
between
As
is
the
the
and subjectivity of
spectators, we shift
never explored.
victim
feel
for
both
the visceral
investigator's and victim's experiences: we
clues and
search
quality of the body as repository for clues. The artistry of the serial killer remains
central,but alongside his creation of formal beauty is his ability to produce exquisite
pain. Our spectatorial pleasures derive from both: we are alterriatively

(or

siinultaneously)critic and subject. even if the victim's body has coalescedinto the
-253 -

the
in
aestheticized
the
find
We
as
well
as
pain
pleasure
murderer's work of art.
body.
the
of
controlled
spectacle
It is noteworthy that the other murders in Se7enalso enable a positioning of us,
Lust
depiction
The
degree,
the
murder, although mostly
of
to some
as victims.
in
dildo,
the
death
fucked
fate
to
us
the
puts
via a savage
prostitute
of
avoiding the
help
for
her.
His
forced
at
dilemmaof the client who was
pleas
at gunpoint to murder
his
his
crime are as much the prostitute's as
the conclusionof
verbal re-enactmentof
between
displays
briefly
Pride,
the
his.
painful choice
shown, tangibly
although

deathand living with disfigurement, and encouragesa postulation on our part about
death,
Tracey's
in
if
And
never
even
such a scenario.
our possible reaction placed

box,
by
head
her
carries an emotional weight
only represented a
severed
shown,and
in the fact that she was pregnant; the murder of a woman bearing a child brings with
it the cultural force of the shock felt in 1969 at Sharon Tate's murder by Charles

39The
film thereforeseemsall too awareof victimhood.
Manson'sfollowers.
Like the other films in the subgenre, pain of knowing exists via the senses,but it
is not solely about the victim, rather the whole crime. As we have noted, many films

in
death,
Sloth
to
the
the
attempt stress overwhelming smell of
murder, the room
and
is decoratedwith Christmastree-shapedair fresheners(figure 4.20). In the subgenre,
theact of contemplationgives time for more than visual recognition, and even when
quitebrief (suchas in the Lust murder), or when the body is missing (Greed murder),
vivid descriptionsand photographs are puzzled over and dwelt upon to encourage
our reflection on suffering, which is the mark of the killer's control. Furthermore,
when the images correspond to familiar iconography of suffering (Christian or
1
.19The figure of Manson looms large throughout the film. The book Helter Skelter (which chronicled
the Manson murders) is mentioned by Somerset as a possible book to be flagged up by the FBI if
taken from a library. The slogans at the murder scenes, and displayed corpses also seem to reference
eventslinked to Manson. And the film contains music by Nine Inch Nails, a band closely linked to
Manson.notably through
in
house
his
(Dyer
1999,53).
an
album
recording

-254-

Figure 4.20 Christmas tree-shaped air fresheners


Sloth
in
Se7en
the
murder scene
conceptual art at

suggesting smell and

torture), we are invited to ponder the sensorial properties of the scene. In the example
Catholicism
Se7en,
inculcate
Seven
the
the
gravity
of
of
and cultural references
Deadly Sins with a level of agony far exceeding any specifics. In other words, even
knowing
without
of the sins, the implied notoriety and cultural deployment of them,
suggeststheir extremeness. It is hardly surprising then that David Fincher declared
that he is 'always interested in movies that scar' (in Black 1998a, 145), and 'was
afraid people wouldn't respond viscerally' (in Taubin 1996,24). Both the serial killer
artists, and the films themselves, attempt to tap into the scarring or visceral
interpretation of the posed body that has suffered. Art is once more imbued with a
raw presence,alongside its formalism.
It therefore becomes clear that the artistic serial killer subgenre addresses the
crime scene, the murderer, the investigator and the victim in quite significantly
different ways to earlier depictions of the serial killer. The aestheticization
and
artistry provide the opportunity to investigate the controlled body and read it for
.
clues. Reassuringly, the investigator becomes a critic to complement the killer's
artistrv. He and/or she can decipher and make meaning of the world of the serial

killer, a world where the murderous acts are frequently


categorized as without
-255-

the
knowledge,
The
investigator,
guides
reason.
as possessorof privileged cultural
'whyT
'whenT
'whatT,
'whoT,
of
the
and
philistine police officers, and us and reveals
by
'Motiveless'
is
or
confession
the crime.
not
comprehensible,
made
crime
interrogation, but insight. In a quite reactionary way, via the serial killer representing

be
it,
fears
to
investigator
heinous
the
the
seen
crime, and
resolving
of society can
all
be contained.And yet, although the serial killer is usually caught in the films, such a
his
is
himself
In
Se7en,
Doe
not secure.
gives
up, and still completes
reading
Copycat
has
killer
project
of
seven
murders;
another
overarching
waiting to embrace

the role; Lecter remains at large (in The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal); in The
Bone Collector, the killer had staged crimes before and the clues had gone
in
Resurrection,
had
his
the
and
undetected;
murderer
rehearsed
crimes with more
in
different
US state. The tone might be bleakest in Se7en, but all are
victims
a

taintedby the illusivenessof the serial killer.


Where the conservatism is more in evidence is through the importance of
looking. Whether via the panoptic quality of characters like Rhyme or the FBI

trackinglibrary book withdrawals in Se7en,the subgenreadvocatesthe usefulnessof


intrusive surveillance, as well as perpetuating a blind faith in FBI
profilers, who one
psychologist has charged with 'bastardizing their discipline with a lot of mumbojumbo, without really knowing what they are doing' (Russell Boxley in Newton
2000,189). However, the notion of the investigating look has
a more pertinent
importanceto the subgenre.
The duty of voyeurism obliges the spectator to confront the
in
victim
a way most

serialkiller films do not, and although denuding the victim of any subjectivity (quite
frequentlywe never seethem
as anything other than a corpse),their experienceas a
victim is expressed. Even though the suffering is missing, the act of contemplation
associatedwith art. and in particular religious paintings actually
encourages
a
,

-256-

dwelling on torment. In respectof paintings, Maria Tatar has argued that: 'Cultural
happened
to
brutal
Lustmord
the
what
realities of
reveal
representationsof victims of
the victims, but they also cloud issues of agency through their aestheticizing
is
(1995,183).
body
is
but
But
In
this
there,
other words, the
we see art.
strategies'
does
dominate
in
killer
for
to
the
the
artistic serial
subgenre,
spectator
not allowed
The
for
it
the
murder scene as art alone,
not experience
prickles with pain.
filmic
image
the
always resists the complete aestheticization of the
corporeality of
killer
in
investigator
the
the
to
the
and
capability
of
crime,
provoke a carnal response
(and us the audience) is part of his form of control and artistry. Art is restored to a

both
formalism
that
embraces
aesthetic
state
and raw sensorial reactions. The
subgenreof the artistic serial killer cultivates a sensorial response beyond seeing, and
through the artistry (both via and beyond), the spectator is faced with an actuality of
his
her
suffering:
or
own moment of victimhood.

-257-

5. Playing with Control


I
that.
I'm
bruises
from
fighting.
Yes,
am enlightened.
Yes, these are
comfortable with
The narrator (Ed Norton) in Fight Club

but
In this chapter,I wish to return to the theme of consensualmasochisticpleasure,
different.
Rather
is
the
in
than
body
palpable
markedly
the controlled
question
killer,
the
body
BDSM
the
top,
the
artistic serial
modifier, and
control of the
in
in
detail
discussed
films
in
this
the
two
chapter enjoy relinquishing
participants
highly
but
the
play environ.
situations:
controlled
within
control.)

What makes the broad realm of play (which includes sport and games) so
it
by
imposed
is
how
it
the
the
to
culture
restraints
sits outside
appropriate my study
(1970)
Huizinga
in.
Johan
Using
that
the
a model of play
applies
work of
operates
(both
Caillois
(1961),
1
Roger
that
the
physically and
site of play
will show
and
defined
its
highly
is
by
Further,
I
own set of
structured rules.
will
metaphorically)
it
has
been
depictions
for
its
to
that
seek establish
recently
exploited within cinematic
be
both
it
is
to
potential
a rigidly controlled space, where
safe to temporarily abandon
control of the body, and a space that gives the appearance of offering the player

unlimitedcontrol. The dual aspect,I will contend,bearsa close relationship to recent


cultural fluctuations and rearrangements in sources of gratification in play and sport,
in particular, the growing participation in dangerous or extreme sports, and the
'
proliferation of playing video games.
In respect of extreme sports, I refer to activities ranging from bungee jumping
2
fighting
BASE
jumping.
Previous films have
and extreme skiing to cage
and

touchedon the subject. Rollerball (Norman Jewison, USA, 1975) and Death Race
I

I am using video game as a generic term to include gamesplayed on arcade


machines, computers
(bothonline and offline) and video game consoles.
I- Cagefighting
and its associatedsports such as extreme fighting and mixed martial arts are a form of
few-holds-barredfiGhting involving punching, kicking and sometimeshead butting. BASE is
an
acronvinfor Buildiniz, Antennae, Span (bridge), Earth (cliffs), and representsthe fixed-objects from
C)
whichBASEjumps, an extreme form of skydiving, are made.

-258-

2000 (Paul Bartel, USA, 1975) have explored the dangersof futuristic versions of a
form of extreme sports, whilst Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1991) and
Clifjhanger (Renny Harlin, USA, 1993) have used actual extreme sports as
filmic
However,
for
backgrounds
their crime narratives.
neither strand of
dealt
has
the
the
painful
of
with
masochistic
endeavour
effectively
representation
be
film
do
but
the
time
to
may now
right
so.
a recent
suggests
pursuits,

With regard to video games,theseoffer worlds purely constructedaround rules,


designed
for
illusion
The
theme
the
of control
participants.
of environments
with
is
Crichton,
Westworld
(Michael
to
cinema, with
around game rules not entirely new
USAq 1973) being an obvious antecedent. More recently, films have directly taken
their source from computer games. Thus, Mortal Kombat (Paul Anderson, USA,
1995),Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Simon West, USA/Gennany/tJK/Japan, 2001) and
Resident Evil (Paul Anderson, Germany/UKJFrance, 2002) have all recreated the
from
characters, narratives and/or situations
video games. Furthermore, as Katie
3
Salenattests in her study of Machinima,
the language and style of game media have had tremendous influence on
film
direction
recent
and camera movement, ... [for example] the style and
bullets of The Matrix [Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski,
USA/Australia, 1999], the bamboo groves and airborne fight-dancing of
Cl'ouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [Ang Lee, China/Taiwan/USA, 2000], and
the all-seeing camera eye in the first scenes of Being John Malkovich [Spike
Jonze,UK/USA, 1999]. (2002,99)
My interest though, is not so much in the storylines or the mise-en-scene (although
thesehave important roles to play), but in whether the films attempt to replicate the

Machinima,as Katie Salen describesit, are 'animated movies made utilizing the client-side,
realtime3D renderingtechnology of game engines' (2002,99). In other words, these are moving images,
oftenwith narratives,that recreatemany of the aspectsof cinema, but which utilize recording
technologiesembeddedin the cThe
technology and the way the machinima are composed and
Yames.
editedare frequently indebted to the modes of cinematic structure, and thus this is the reverse of
cinemabeing influenced by the iconography of video games.

-259-

4 especially in relation to
game play experience of action and adventure games,

control.
Through noting the traits of contemporary extreme sports and video games, as
I
the
possible
a
the
map
will
participants,
of
of
some
comments
well as recounting
David
by
films
directed
in
desires
two
and pleasures articulated
reading of the
features
Game
The
film,
Fighl
Club.
in
1999
1997,
Game,
The
Fincher:
and the
made
his
(Michael
Douglas),
Orton
Van
Nicholas
businessman,
experience
and
wealthy
a
him
denies
his
life.
The
the
threaten
in a real-life game that appearsto
game
world of

his well-ordered, heavily controlled lifestyle, and thrusts him into a battle of
he
Jack
jeopardy.
In
Fight
Club,
the
as occasionally calls
narrator, or
enduranceand
5
himself, suffers insomnia from subsisting in his numb corporate life. On meeting
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), he finds cathartic happiness in the physical beatings of the
Fight Club: a place where winning does not matter, and pain blurs with pleasure.
Both films address a masochistic pleasure of temporarily renouncing control
films
in
Hollywood,
The
the
two
within a play context.
are
exception
not the rule.
But their existence, along with the play pursuits that inform them, gives credence to
fascination
for
body
in
Western
the
that
my overall contention
a
controlled
exists
has
in
her
As
Christine
Ward
Gailey
culture.
noted
study of game media, 'Games
in
dominant
the
the
played a society embody
culture; they are ways of
values of

reinforcingthrough play the behaviors and models of order rewarded or punished in


the society' (1993,8 1). As witnessed throughout my survey, in spite of the interest in

masochisticactivities. the hegemonic order does not endorse them, so it is

4Action
gamesusually involve moving a characterthrough a game world by a combination of
running,jumping and climbing, with an objective of finding a way through to the next level of the
game.Adventure gamesput a greater emphasison exploring the world in a searchfor clues and to
solvepuzzles.The genresare far from distinct though, with both relying on direct character control,
andgamessuch as those in the Tomb Raider series( 1996 -) being categorized as action adventure.
Henceforth,I will refer to the narrator as Jack in the interest of clarity, but will retain narrator when
usedb) other writers.

-260-

like
the
But
in
pursuits.
films
painful
the
pain
of
that
pursuit
mask
most
unsurprising
pleasures
films
alternate
Fincher's
where
of
resistance
offer a site
gamesthemselves,
be
may produced.

At Play
is
inquiry
interest
the way rules structure
to
When considering play, of particular
my

Marxist
Rather
whereby
than
bound
critique,
the
or
carnivalesque
a
space.
play
and
for
looking
the
I
the spaceconfines and safely vents exuberanceand violence, am
What
the
associated
the
normally
pleasures
are
environment.
controlled
of
allure
different
impose
do
how
the
new variations of play confirm or
and
play,
with
its
in
does
ftindamentally,
Most
the
very
realm of play contain
emphaseson them?
is
in
for
the
that
controlled
with
associated
pain
a
pleasure
a
propensity
structure
body?
Johan Huizinga is adamant that play is foundational to a culture. In Homo
Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, first published in 1938, Huizinga
declaresthat 'civilization arises and unfolds in and as play' (1970,17). He proceeds
by providing a pertinent and convincing model of the essenceof play. Thus he states
play is:
free
life
being
'ordinary'
'not
a
activity standing quite consciously outside
as
serious', but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is
an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained
by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space
according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation
of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to
stresstheir difference from the common world by disguise or other means.
(1970,32)
RogerCaillois would later criticize Huizinga for claiming play was secretive, instead
preferring to categorize it by spectacle (1961,4),

and points out his neglect of

gambling(1961,5), yet his basic terms of classification remain remarkably similar:


-261 -

by
is
free,
separate,uncertain, unproductive, governed rules, and make-believe
play
I
Thus,
(1961,9-10).
from
(meaning an awarenessof its difference
what
reality)
it
following
is
takes
the
place
properties:
are
of
play
suggest
conditional
would

is
it
is
by
its
borders,
it
has
its
its
a
and
rules,
governed
own
own
own
reality,
within
Thus,
freewill
by
a slave
where uncertainty, or risk, are crucial.
pursuit undertaken
Michael
for
fighting
is
The
Man
(Paul
Running
my study,
not play, and so
gladiator

Glaser, USA, 1987), where contestantsare forced to compete in an arena for a


falls
immediately
inclusively,
More
televised spectacle,
choice to
outside my remit.
into
risky situations, whether physically challenging such as rock climbing, or
enter
demanding,
like
a game of chess, allows the notion of masochistic
emotionally
into
is
That
to
the
the
the
play;
participant wants
pleasure come
challenge.
victory
is
beyond
doubt
for
Huizinga (1970,71),
prime objective of play

it
be
so would

imply
he
it
to
that
wrong of me
regarded a masochistic enterprise in its own right.
My contention is that the very properties that define play lend themselves quite
effortlessly to being co-opted into masochism-driven games and sports: activities that
marginalize the concept of victory, and even the concomitant aspects of honour and
prestige.
Huizinga's characterization of 'the essence of the play-spirit'

(1970,72)

is

remarkablysimilar to those I and others have used to describe the masochistic


pursuits in BDSM; Huizinga calls it a yearning 'To dare, to take risks, to bear
uncertainty, to endure tension' (1970,72).

The BDSM scene is, as we have

witnessed.governed by tension and its own set of rules (freely agreed upon by the

bottomand the top), and it exists outside the conventional rules


of society. Like
Huizinga"sdefinition of play, it 'is not "ordinary" or "real" life. It is
rather a stepping
out of "'real" life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own,
(1970,26). Play and the BDSM scene are dependent upon rules defining limits. As

-262-

isolated spaces,they both provide a form of security regarding letting go of control,


But
dominated.
being
rules
the
losing,
prescribed
to
the
or
anxiety or risk of
either
directions,
they
Regulations,
provide
all
or
precepts
standards,
much
more.
establish
he
it
Huizinga
in
when
the
accurately
again
calls
society.
not
available
wider
surety
statesthat play,

life
into
imperfect
Into
the
is
confusion of
world and
an
createsorder, order.
it brings a temporary, a limited perfection. Play demandsorder absoluteand
its
it
deviation
from
it
least
'spoils
The
the
of
game', robs
supreme.
it
(1970,29)
character,and makes worthless.
Likewise, Caillois argues, 'The confused and intricate laws of ordinary life are
be
by
that
accepted as such'
precise, arbitrary, unexceptional rules
must
replaced ...
(1961,7). The rules hold the world together. For Huizinga, and Caillois concurs,
is
better
ignores
for
like
Emperor's
than
the
the
a spoilsport who
even a cheat
rules,
is
illusion
to
the
to
the
new clothes,
not see
rules
shatter
of the world of play. In
BDSM tenus, it is like breaking the scene, for example by the top asking the bottom
if s/he is okay. But like the BDSM scene, participants are free to say 'I am not
playing anymore'. The significance then is that the play environment is a setting of
it
is
control;
so strictly ordered that the partaker can rely on outcomes. The trait of
guaranteedreaction is, as we shall see, imperative to video games. However, this is

not the only allure of play. Indeed, it is the attendantfeaturesof 'the liberating and
isolatiiig rules of play' (Caillois 1961,50) that invite the risk and facilitate the
pleasuresof temporarily abandoning control.
Unlike Huizinga, Caillois places less emphasis on winning. He defines four
main
rubrics of play: ag6n (competition), alea (chance), mimicry (simulation) and ilinx

(vertigo,or a state or disorder such as dizziness) (1961,12). The categories


are not
"Ititually exclusive, with some exceptions, and each operates on a continuum from
an

uncontrolledexuberanceto a disciplined, organized enterprise.For our study,


what
-263-

winner,
is
clear
a
produce
to
can
that
combat,
as
whilst agon play, such
we need note
defined.
Thus:
is
for
ilinx play,
examplemountain climbing, not so
latter
but
feelings
the
fear
of panic,
or, more precisely,
vertigo presupposes
is
It
it
is
fascinates
of
a
question
not
so
much
pleasurable.
one;
and
attracts
fear,
fear
thrills, and
the
triumphing over
voluptuous experience of
as of
1961,169)
(Caillois
loss
that
of self-control.
causesa momentary
shock
It is society's increasing interest in ifinx play, even if within a competitive context,
losing
in
Club
The
Game:
Fight
a pleasure
and
which seemsto resonate throughout

does
however,
'one
is
Caillois
that
to
not
right note of all play
control and enduring.
from
is
inseparable
The
the
thing.
the
to
risk of
a
sure
pleasure
of
game
as
play win
losing' (1961,173). In coming to his conclusion, Caillois shows both how elemental
the desire is, and how intertwined the notions of control, pain and play are.
Describing a child, he points out the following:
He loves to play with his own pain, for example by probing a toothache with
his tongue. He also likes to be frightened. He thus looks for a physical
illness, limited and controlled, of which he is the cause, or sometimes he
he,
being
that
the cause, can stop at will. (1961,28)
seeksan anxiety
Caillois's explanation of the child's logic is a facsimile for the pleasures pursued by
the charactersin Crash, and those attained by Bob Flanagan through his performance
art and life (as well as perhaps the gratification felt by all masochists). But it also
provides a model for the play in Fight Club, and the sporting contract Nicholas Van

Orton believes he is entering into in The Game. That the aestheticized suffering
promptedby the artistic serial killer discussedin the last chapterdoesnot correspond
is no matter; we have already observed his game of providing clues amongst the

murdersceneof the controlled body. What is significant to note is the fundamentally


pla'ful quality of masochism as well as the masochistic propensity for play. And

now that we have entered the world of play, we can begin to examine the
specificities.
-264-

Sport
Sport,as an example of play, is set apart from the rest of society. It has sports stars,
importance,
invested
latter
being
which
the
with
great
spaces
venues,
sporting
and
6
for
have,
is
infrequently
football
(a
twice
maybe
a week), and
used
stadium
used
are
by
devised
).
Rules
(the
'hallowed
turf
and monitored
are
some, a sacred status
international organizations (for example, Federation Internationale de Football
Association and the International Olympic Committee), and whether played by
leisure
forms
important
an
part of contemporary
professionals or amateurs, sport
time. But the classification of it as a pastime does not make it neutral. Sociological
have
interpreted
its
sport positively via
perspectives
ability to provide social skills.
Thus, it is seen as integrating individuals into the society, and maintaining the social
by
reinforcing norms and values (Hargreaves 1986,2). In many ways, this is
order
the story of Rocky (John G. Avildsen, USA, 1976), where the rebellious kid from the
ghetto gets his big break through boxing. Conversely, sport has been construed as
indoctrinating the lower classes into the ideology of the hegemonic order, whilst
producing the labour force necessary for capitalist society. Rollerball depicts such an
ideology. In a world run by corporations, violence is confined to a futuristic
game
combining basketball, roller hockey and a motorcycle wall of death. The sport is
designedto have a social purpose: show the futility of individual
action. However,
when one player, Jonathan E. (Jarnes Caan), begins to attain star status, the
corporation is

rced to continually change the rules in an attempt to see him die in

thearena.When questionedby Jonathanas to why he cannot continue, a member

of

thecorporation explains: 'It wasn't meant to be a game, never. '

Of course, as John Hargreavesmakes clear in his study of the


role sport has
11t
is noticeablethough, that the businessfunction
of sport is beginning to supplant the sporting one,
with stadiabeing utilized for all manner of things (concerts, weddings, corporate functions
) when
etc.
not beingusedfor their intended purpose.

-265-

both
the
into
in
the
British
order.
social
the
class
working
assimilating
played
in
discourses
dominant and subordinate groups develop and appropriate their own
leisure
their
meanings.
time
own
so
negotiate
and
activities,
sporting
of
and
respect
to
in
Club.
These
in
Fight
bouts
Such a situation typifies the
opposition
stand
its
by
be
defined
rationalized
commodifiedand globalized corporatesport, which can
Taylorism-inspired
structure of statistics and

Like
for
most
perfection.
search

the
involvement
the
threaten
the
of
essence
of corporations would
extreme sports,
fighting in Fight Cu.

But Fight Club is concernedwith a broader commodification of sport. As Mike


body
is
'Within
Featherstone
the
proclaimed as a vehicle of
states,
consumerculture
(1982,177),
pleasure'

fitness
frame,
human
through
the
the
with
subjugation of

body
for
body
in
the
the
maintenance, considered worthwhile
search
regimes and
8

ideal. Featherstone'swork has shown that the pursuit of sport and dietary control are
deemed in consumer culture to enhance sexual prowess, so that 'exercise and
blurred
together through neologisms such as "sexercise" and "exersex
sexuality are
(1982,182). It is such a discourse surrounding sport and sexuality that Fight Club,
in
its
film
The
two-thirds,
especially
engages with.
opening
asks, as does Jack as he
looks at a poster of a sculptured six-pack of male abdominal muscles emerging from

constrainingGucci underwear,'Is that what a man looks likeT


In his article 'Sport in the Social Construction of Masculinity', David Whitson

commentsthat, 'Sport has become ... one of the central sites in the social production

7A
recenttelevision seriesexamining extreme sports,Xtremists (2003), has identified how corporate
involvementhas both promoted and simultaneously threatenedthe sports. Whilst the Red Bull drink is
synonymouswith extreme sports via its sponsorship,and fits into the free spirit ethos, other corporate
involvementinspired by their promotion of the sports has prompted Red Bull to rethink its
Participation.in other words, the lack of corporate identity is what has drawn Red Bull to extreme
sports.
SI
retainan interest in the obsessionwith the honed and toned form of the body beautiful, which is a
formof the controlled body, but as I stated in Chapter 3, my focus is on the immediate
control, where
painis codedas part or all of the pleasure.

-266-

Richard
Crash,
to
(1990,19).
As
with reference
masculinity'
we witnessedwith
of
inspection
for
image
(1982),
Dyer's work on the male pin-up
the
our
of a man posed
is legitimated by his frame being caught in action or his pose being associatedwith
inspection
Sport
favourite
being
the
somehowchanges
a sporting pursuit.
activity, a
like
from
by
heterosexual
images
to
an
the
ogling
admiration;
male
of such
higher
into
the
the
gaze
some apparently
sporting context refracts
enveloping prism,

is
from
lustful
far
base,
So
the
the
gaze.
all-encompassing
removed
orderof viewing,
having
boy
has
different
Western
that
culture
a very
reading of an adolescent
prism,
having
boy
his
that
to
the
a
wall
of
same
a muscular, semi-nude sportsman on
dressed
Masculinity
male pin-up.
similarly

beauty
and manly
are thus tightly

intertwined with sport, not only for the sportsman, but also the spectator.
This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, UK, 1963), with a powerful but hardly
hunky Richard Harris in the lead role, notes the relationship between sport and the
body beautiful. Having had several teeth smashed out in a violent rugby match, both

his spurnedadmirer and his lover (who is also his landlady) comment that it has
spoilt his looks. But in Fight Club, part of the appeal is to mark the body, something
that equatesthe film closely with Crash. Chuck Palahniuk, author of the novel Fight

Clubis basedon, comments:


I discoveredthat I'd never been in fights, and went, wow, that was sort of
fun. That was a great release,and yeah, it hurts a little bit, but I lived through
it. And it made me really curious about what I was capable of. (In Jeffries
2000,8)
And retrospectively he noted, 'I realised that if you looked bad enough, people would
not want to know what you did in your spare time' (in Jeffries 2000,8). His point is
twofold: firstly. society tries to ignore the healthy masochistic impulse that many
(maybe all) people possess, and secondly, there is pleasure to be had in
pain in

certainsituations. or as Palahniuk states, 'There's a redeeming value to taking a


-267-

And
2000,8;
Jeffries
(in
added).
emphasis
punch under controlled circumstances'
defined
its
spaces,
and
rules
hereis the nub of the issue.Sport, with
of
rigid
attributes
in
the
is
to
the perfect environment
engage
both derived from the play ethos,
from
derived
is
temporarily
Indeed,
the
pleasure
much of
pleasurablepursuit of pain.
but
dominated,
being
discomfort
to
even,
pulp
a
the
pummelled
of
experiencing
dictate
in
desire;
further
the
what
it
than you
knowing will not go
rules
other words,
but
in
is
be.
BDSM
This
limits
all
name.
the
will
What is also of note is that, in some quarters, there is an acceptance of
Palahniuk's philosophy, and a move towards the aesthetics of pain. Thus, Amy
Taubin has written in her review of Fight Club, jBrad]

Pitt

has never been as


...

body'
down
his
blood
broken
he
is
cut
streaming
nose and
with a
exquisite as
(I 999a, 17). Fight Club appearsto be marking a social shift, but one that mainstream
Life
This
Sporting
it
Where
is
engages with
cinema still not sure should recognize.
the theme of hurting oneself (suicide and self-loathing), Frank (Richard Harris) is
don't
kicked
in
his
he
finds
'I
sport:
enjoy getting
adamant
no masochistic pleasure
been
lot
for
it.
football
field....
it
if
I
I've
'
He
about a
paid a
only enjoy
can pick
fights when greatly outnumbered, and deliberately stand under jets of cold water
it
different;
indeed,
but
after a game,
such sport
regulated sport somehow makes all
doesnot admit masochism, a fact the law in England more or less states.
During 1990-91, in what became known as the Spanner trial, sixteen men were
9
prosecutedfor taking part in BDSM activities. Although all had consented, and no

permanentinjuries were sustained,they were chargedunder the Offences Against the


PersonAct of 1861. At the first trial, the defendantswere forced to plead guilty to
assault,as Judge James Rant ruled that consent was no defence. Although it is

TheSpannercasewas named after the codenameof the police investigation. For a full account the
of
trial seeBill Thompson, Sadomasochism:Painful Perversion or Pleasurable Play9 (1994).

-268-

there
some
are
to
in
law
assault,
an
that you cannot give assent
acknowledged
by
be
'justified
lists
Law
good
Criminal
to
these
Kenny's
Outlines
of
exceptions.
Archbold's
1994,6),
Thompson
B.
(in
lawful
and
chastisement'
sport,
e.
g.,
reason,
in
the
blows
'(i)
defines
Practice
Evidence
them
Pleading
given
Criminal
as
and
but
in
blows
(ii)
friendly
the
rough
of
course
given
context;
athletics
a
of
course
defining
In
1994,7).
B.
Thompson
as
(in
horse
action
an
innocent
other
words,
play'
for
deception,
the
is
But
this
the
the
merely semantic
action.
status of
sport changes
legal
backing.
establishedrules of sport are simply control given

is
it
but
laboured,
be
is
from
BDSM
distinction
its
to
That
vague should not need
interesting to note the findings of Sabo and Panepinto's investigation into 'Football
Ritual and the Social Reproduction of Masculinity'

(1990). Interviewing male

American Football players about their relationships with their coaches, they found a
key element was pain, both as an initiation to prove courage and to separate the
initiates from those outside the sporting group. Most telling was the finding that
Interviewees enthusiastically shared stories of coaching techniques that "drove us to
the limits"' (1990,122), with one respondent excitedly proclaiming, 'He beat the shit
differentiate
loved
him
for
it'
Utilizing
(1990,123).
to
the group
out us and we
pain
develop
it
is
illuminating
is
important,
internal
it
that
and
and
evidently
cohesion
is
few
but
Sport
the
provokes strong emotions,
one of
environments
not surprising.

from
homosocial
for
bonding,
it
to
wheremen are encouraged show emotions,
aside
legitimates
Sport
(both
is a space where men can cry
supporters and players).
so

many responsesand actions that are denied in the rest of society, and the reason
appearsto be the very contained but also controlled atmosphere it takes place in. In a
controlled space,you can allow yourself to lose control.

Tcamsportsthough are founded on very different principles to sportsthat do not


havecollective responsibility. When part of a team, any pain can be disguisedbehind
-269-

have
the
Furthermore,
most sports
the belief that it was done for the good of all.
that
Kolker
Robert
for
notes
for
justification
rightly
suffering.
any
quest victory as a
inscription
of
'addresses
1980)
the
USA,
Bull
(Martin
Scorsese,
Raging
himself
individual
others
body
and
the
punishes
who
of an
sadomasochismonto
film
However,
(2000,211).
the
is
becausehe cannot understandor control either'
it
justifying
issue
dodge
through
as
(superficially)
the
to
pleasure
masochistic
of
able

Raging
films
More
boxing
though,
than
for
the
most
world championship.
a quest
Bull tackles the relationship of masculinity and masochism.Jake La Motta (Robert
De Niro) admonishes his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) by calling him a 'faggot' when

Joeyrefusesto hit him in the face when asked to. Even more than Frank in This
Sporting Life, Jake wants to punish himself Upset by his own limitations, he pleads
it
does
him.
has
brother
hit
Joey's
'What
Jake
his
to
to
question of
no answer
with
he
loses
his
because
he
doubts
her
Obsessed
with control,
wife
constantly
proveT
faithfulness, and his world title through his inability to manage his weight. Jake's
does
masochistic punishment
not bring pleasure, only abusive self-destruction. The
difference with Fight Club is that the latter film taps into the current cultural trend
that appreciatesand seeks out experiences that require a capacity to resist increasing
personalsuffering. Extreme sports provide such an opportunity.
David Le Breton, in 'Playing Symbolically with Death in Extreme Sports',
outlines some of the properties and pleasures of the sporting pursuits. Concentrating
on sports not involving a struggle with a third party, the work nonetheless offers a

route into the desires and mindsets displayed in Fight Club, where winning is
measuredagainst personal endurance not victory over an opponent.

Le Breton's description of the need for extreme sports, and the pleasures
comainedtherein, is a template for the themes of numbed disillusionment and the
searchfor personalfulfilment via suffering that Jack craves in Fight Club. Thus, Le
-270-

Breton states:
Constantly being called upon to prove themselves in a society where
in
both
are
values
where
and
contradictory
and
points
are
countless
reference
their
test
to
through
contest,
a radical one-to-one
crisis, people are seeking,
(2000,1)
their
their
personal resources.
courage and
strength of character,
Startlingly, Le Breton draws a strong parallel between these sports and the pleasures

has
intense
declaring
'the
the
a
the
BDSM,
the
achievement
more
suffering,
more
of
(2000,1).
reassuring personal significance'

Fight Club and The Game borrow

heavily from a similar ethos, so why do few other films?


Perhaps inherently, extreme sports, although visually exciting when shot in a
documentary style (note the rise of the extreme sports television channel EX) offer
little opportunity for cinematic narratives. Even a near equivalent film,

The

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, UK, 1962), is orientated

for
it
has
Fight
Club,
interaction
Like
the
and
not
solitude,
a
competitive
race.
around
is
battle
it
the
too critiques
to
self, and
used
posit a
with
interior monologue

film
has.
but
it
does
have
impulse
Fincher's
the
that
consumerism,
not
masochistic
TheLoneliness of the Long Distance Runner is denied the raison d'etre that extreme
have
brought
fore:
jubilation
'paradoxical
to
the
the
sports

bom of suffering

have
initiated.
Breton
2000,6),
Evidently, we have
(Le
overcome'
a suffering you
once again returned to the notion of control. Le Breton highlights its importance

whenhe statesthat the thrill of 'a mixture of fear and intoxication, of emotion and
sensation'comesfrom an individual being 'immersed in an ordeal and in control of
the dangerbeing faced' (2000,2; emphasisadded).If anxiety, stressand risk-taking
areto be felt as pleasure,the individual has to have the freedom to submit or reftise,
but it also requires what Le Breton calls 'personal creativity'

(2000,5).

1 will

developthe idea further when I examine Fight Club in detail, but for now we should
"Oteit involves the splitting of the mind and body in a way that seemswholly fitting
-271 -

to the film.
he
In Le Breton's most telling use of the language of the BDSM masochist,
is
body]
it
[the
knows
'that
the
the
that
more scarred
extreme
sports
enthusiast
states
the
be
the
of
the
appreciation
more significant and more powerful will
at the end,
the
danger,
In
(2000,5).
the
to
the
needs
sportsman/sportswoman
addition
event'
body to acheduring and after the extreme sport: the pain is part of the pleasure.Like
the memory invested in body modification, BDSM pursuits, and even the marks on
the artistic serial killer's victims, the participant in extreme sports has pain to testify

to his existeneeand eommitment. Chie Seott has said of fellow mountaineerDougal


Hastonthat he did not have a death wish, 'But I do think he did have a pain wish.
There was something there in the pain and the suffering and the concentration of
10
him
Connor
(in
2002,199).
Comparably, Morverand who
climbs that gave
solace'
kayakedacross the North Atlantic explained he was 'experiencing emotions that are
denied us elsewhere' (in Le Breton 2000,5),

and Guy Delage, who swam the

Atlantic, pledged beforehand that 'I want to experience pain after having experienced
terror in a microlight over the Atlantic' (in Le Breton 2000,5). Such objectives make
extremesports a profitable route into a study of the controlled body in Fight Club.

Video Games
The video game may seem worlds away, virtual worlds at that, from
extreme sports,
but it seemsto negotiate the same territory
of control. These similarities I will come

to shortly,but first we should note that unlike extreme sports,video gameshave had
quite an impact on cinema in recent years. The timely release of The Matrix
10In 1975,Dougal Haston,
along with Doug Scott, were the first men to climb the South-West Face of
EN-erest,
and they were forced to spendthe night on the summit in a snow hole without oxygen, food
or sleepingbags,but survived. Four years earlier, Haston had declared: 'I never really think
about
d),ing on a mountain,
although I concedethe risks are always there. That's part of the game. But never
forgetthis is a
pretty disciplined sport. You know you are going to get into awkward situations, and
thatthey NN-ill
call for self-control and concentration' (in Connor 2002,201).

'272
-

the
2003)
and
USA/Australia,
Wachowski,
Reloaded(Andy Wachowski and Larry
that
intersects
of
briefly
(2003),
Enter
The
Matrix
which
the
of
narrative
game
video
the
strong
featuring
footage
shows
the
cast,
original
the movie and contains extra
from
fight
The
formats.
between
sequences
the
slow-motion
interrelationship
media
11
'bullet-time',
the
into
fit
game as
the playable environment of
the film
seamlessly
to
is
by
technology
easy
equally
computer
the
created
reality
of
a
virtual
premise
and

incorporate.Other films too have drawn on the exaggerated grammar of video


Tiger,
Crouching
for
laws,
breaking
the
example
gravitational
of
especiallY
games,

by
is
the
indebtedness
but
the
Dragon,
Hidden
the circular structure of
revealed
Woo
John
directors
by
being
inspired
the
and
as
themselves
such
of
work
games
12

SamPeckinpah.

Conversely, the increasing use of cut scenesbetween the segments of interactive


live
featuring
full
(FMV)
including
in
sequences
motion video
video games,
play
imagery.
films
influence
But
the
are not games and games
of cinematic
actors,shows

borrow
Evil
(1996)
films.
horror
Resident
A
might
are not
game such as
survival
heavily from the camera angles, lighting, sound and action sequencesof the George
A. Romero zombie films that inspired it, but what makes them games is their
13
interactiveness.
Films such as Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Resident Evil,

whichare derived from video games,have, as Kim Newman notes, 'disappointingly

Bullet-timehad previously featured in other video gamessuch as Max Payne (200 1).
12We
could also note at this point that David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, which features a particularly
N!
isceralform of computer game, was partly sponsoredby the video console manufacturer Sega(Poole
2000,23).eventhough no game was ever made for retail.
13Films
and gamesdiffer in many other ways too. In games,music can be used for tension, but does
not havethe samerelationship to the image as that in a film where the score is written to complement
predetermined
visual images. In addition, real-time interaction necessitatesno montage in games
(althoughedits can take place via pseudocameraplacementsin relation to the
game geography, and
caiioften be usedfor effect, such as hiding significant detail). Gamesalso use quasi-filmic techniques
to simulatepansand tracks. For more details on the comparisonsof film and video
games see Steven
Poole(2000,78-102).

-273-

14
It
220).
(2002a,
inspiration,
their
the
than
the
structure of
content rather
adapt[ed]
is noticeable though that Resident Evil does attempt to replicate some stylistic
featuresfrom its respective video game series, namely the confined spaces, and
highlighting certain objects, via colour and placement,to replicate those in the game
for
further
interact
the
to
example, coloured
narrative,
that characterswould
with
(see
figures
5.1
5.2).
and
virusesand chemicals
The race against time narrative is also a framing device familiar from video
for
it
for
high
is
the whole game to achieve a
score, or
either used
games,where
die
if
is
time
the
where
a
character
will
within
an
objective
not
achieved
sequences
limit. A film that attains a strong comparison with the format, although not modelled
is
on an actual video game, Battle Royale (Kenji Fukasaku, Japan, 2000), in which a
group of school children are taken to an island and ordered to kill each other as part
deterrent
for
delinquency.
A time limit of three days is set for one person to be
of a
left alive, if not, they will all die. Each character has a different weapon (a common
way of defining protagonists in video games), with winners of battles noting their
progressionthrough the game by accruing captured weapons, and the cinema screen
flashing up titles showing the body count as if it was an interactive experience. The

film fits into the broadercategoryof gameswith hunted humans,which includes The
Alost Dangerous GamelThe Hounds of Zarofif (Irving
Shoedsack, USA,

1932),, La decima vittimalThe

Pichel and Ernest B.

Tenth Victim

(Elio

Petri,

Italy/France, 1965) and the recent film Series 7: The Contenders (Daniel Minahan,
USA, 2001), which satirizes reality shows by having lottery 'winners' forced
to hunt
eachother. Fundamentally, most of these films, including Battle Royale, deny any
masochisticpleasure in the gameplay, offering salvation or riches as their reward.

14Thefilm
version of ResidentEvil nearly completed the full circle of intertextuality, with George A.
P,omero%NTIting
an early script for the project before dropping out.

-274-

Figure 5.1 Visually coded information


Resident Evil - Code: Veronica X
0

in
the
game
video
object
usable
of a

sw
ab

0
I

Figure 5.2 Replicating the video game colour scheme in the film Resident Evil

Equally, these films, and the adaptations mentioned earlier, only attempt a superficial
replication of the video game style.
To make a movie more than merely inspired by a video game, it needs to
is
it
different,
Kim
Newman
that
embracean aspect
right to pinpoint that
and
makes
'Computer, video and role-playing games have informed such set-the-counter-tozero-and-start-againfilms as Groundhog Day [Harold Ramis, USA, 1993], Run Lola
Run [aka Lola Rennt, Tom Tykwer, Germany, 1998], and Memento, which might
literally have been inconceivable otherwise' (2002a, 220). In other words, they
replicate the repeatability of video games, where you go back and try to succeed
wliere you previously failed. The area of repetition and its impact on film narratives
requires further investigation, but it falls beyond my remit. My concern for the

remainderof this section is the idiosyncratic pleasuresfounded on dangerand control

-275-

interpret
Game
The
how
might
by
to
facilitated
out
map
playing video games,and
filmic
in
the
them
context.
been
a
has
around
dangers
traditionally
ordered
Analysis of the
of video games
'the
USA
in
Games'
the
in
kind of moral panic. Leslie Haddon 'Interactive
notesthat
that
dangerous
be
issued
and
General
Surgeon
a warning that video games might
George
MP
UK
in
(1993,137),
the
find
the
them
and
addictive'
children might
Games)
Electronic
(and
Invaders
Space
forward
'Control
the
Foulkesput
other
of
from
the
Concerns
(1993,137-138).
Bill' to control their use
ranged
raised
belief
in
that
to
the
garnes
video
contradictory
arcades,
game
of
youths
congregation

desensitization
fears
Other
to
the
violence and
centred
on
anti-social.
madepeople
'
5
Other
dextrous
highly
the production of a mass of youths
at aiming weapons.
dangersperceived in video games took the form of their reflecting and promoting a
featuring
As
Alloway
divide
themes.
their
through
and
strongly male-focused
gender

Gilbert define it, video game culture is can arena within which to learn and to
16
(1998,96).
However,
"doing"
the
many of the gender
practice
of masculinity'
issueshave been contested in recent studies (see Gailey 1993), especially in respect
of role-play. Steven Poole records that 'it is much more common for European men
to play as women or as Korean ju-jitsu experts than as digital avatars of their own
ethnic origins. It doesn't matter who you are in real life; here, the idea of play as
17
The game space, like the
experimentation extends to your own genes' (2000,46).
play spaceof BDSM, is therefore a place for gender play and controlling identity. It
is this facility for the video game to be a site of experimentation, especially in the

15The
argumentappearsto have some validity, with the police and military in the USA using video
devices
known
Arms
Fire
Training
Simulators
(see
Clive
Thompson
point-and-shoot
as
--lame-like
2002).But the issueshould perhapsnot be about potential but intent.
loSee
also Skirrow 1986.
'-..k
recentstudy by Nottingham Trent University found 15% of online role-playing gamers took part
in Virtualcross-dressing(in Poole 2003,52). Further, the appeal to males of the Tomb Raider series
of
garnes,featuring
Z Lara Croft, is an indication of the ability to cross identify.
I

-276-

the
it
to
that
relevant
dangers
the
make
the
the
game,
of
not
game,
within
context of
body.
the
controlled
studyof
Gillian
both
is
When playing a video game, a person
audienceand participant.
but
in
is
Skirrow describesthe situation as follows: 'The viewer
a separatespace
is
the
in
be
to
else
the
position of co-creator,or subject which everything
appearsto
is
In
the
(1986,130).
effect
there
additional
with
split
subjectivity,
effect,
predicate'
immediate
have
in
the
thumb
and
an
can
that a real-time game,a small movementof
is
The
in
thus
the
an agent
player
game
world.
movement
exaggerated
proportionally

impact
instantaneous
the
the
potent
and
world,
and
magnified
on
an
with
of control,
Shock
Dual
leads
immersion.
developments
Sony's
Recent
to
such as
responsiveness

Controller,which vibrates in the player's handsat appropriatemomentsin the game


(e.g. a heartbeat in Metal Gear Solid (1999), or when a car comers during many
but
it
is
the
the movement on the screen that
racing games), may aid
correspondence,
link
between
image
the
most suggests
and participant.
The element of control is a primary allure to game players. Alice Taylor recalls
her first experience of a computer game like this: 'Stuff on the telly that you control,
wow' (2002,56). Christine Ward Gailey's interviews and observations of parents
and children playing games on the Nintendo games console found a comparable
situation:
The new video games offer a way of closing out the real world, on one level,
and controlling conditions not ordinarily in one's control, on another.... This
sense of being in control in a society where such feelings are rare in
everyday life, was a theme expressedby most of the adult players. (1993 83)
9

With control a key factor, it is not coincidental that the sentiment of


a world where
you have no control is expressedthroughout Fight Club, with the bouts seen as a
spaceto recapturethat sensation. The Game. on the other hand, takes a different
Nicholas Van Orton is defined as a control freak, and is reluctant to
approach.
accept
-277-

18
he
'hate[s]
basis
that
his brother's birthday gift of participation in the 'game" on the
in
be
them,
not
is
and
In
'game',
Nicholas
to
of
the
many
experience
surprises'.
by
defined
space
a
how
as
So
does
participants
the
video game, a space
control.
his
have
to
they
experiences?
control, correspond
where
The clue lies in the structure of video games. Rather than the player controlling

Randy
in
being
is
it
the
think
to
control.
game
of
the character,
more accurate
Schroederclaims that, 'Video gamesprovide none of the open-endednessof regular
(1996,144),
play'

F.
by
Eugene
from
the comment
and the opinion emerges

ProvenzoJr. that dialogue with the video game is 'defined primarily by the computer
both
What
it
has
been
(in
Schroeder
1996,144).
they
the
are
programmed'
way
and

is
how
in
have
boundaries
to their spaceand
to
the
the
virtual worlds
games
referring
in
(1997),
Croft
For
Tomb
Raider
II
Lara
might
example,
rules regarding action.
key
door,
it,
to
a
open
a
need
wooden
and nothing else will open not even repeatedly
it
shooting with twin pistols. Furthermore, as Henry Jenkins and Kurt Squire discuss
in 'The Art of Contested Spaces', games are designed to structure a character's
inovements.Some have "'hard rails",, which tightly structure the player's movements

to unfold a predeterminedexperience,and [there are] those with "soft rails", which


are multidirectional and multilinear' (2002,69).

Citing Tim Shafer of LucasArts,

they conclude that 'the challenge of game design is to "lead the player along" a
predeterminedpathway without "making them feel that they are being controlled"'
(Jenkins and Squire 2002,69). Thus, the player is controlled, rather than fully in
control.
Video games do provide a pleasure of control, and it is the pleasure
of control
Iound in play, but a play where more than any
other, the rules are adhered to. In a

18To
avoid confusion, when referring to the specific game experience undertaken in The Game, I
will
placethe word in single quotation marks.

-278-

losing
to
risk
pure rendition of play, the video game offers a safe enviromnent
identification).
(or
least
at
your point of
control of yourself

If your on-screen

forgiving
is
it
Y
know
do
'dies'
X,
time:
to try
a
next
when you
you
character

fast
hard
by
its
invites
rules.
that
and
surety
of
and
risk
experimentation
environment
The pleasurethen, as articulatedby Nolan Bushell, the founder of Atari video games,
is that it 'is a completely controllable and understandableuniversethat is predictable.
Much more controllable than real life' (in Poole 2000,183-84). This is the essenceof
in
by
defined
Huizinga
Caillois.
is
bonus
There
too,
the added
especially
and
play as
individual
is
invested
have
that
the
to
an effect, and the
with power
role-play games,
have
deterministic
for
'actions
always
consequences
characters or events'
player's
(Poole 2000,54). All actions therefore have meaning, and so enhance the feeling of
control.
Predictability would soon get boring on its own though, so somewhat
contradictorily, the controlled environment must involve jeopardy. Gillian Skirrow

believesthe attraction of video gamesfor men and boys to be the boundary 'between
anxiety and pleasure' (1986,118). Similarly, Steven Poole finds 'that one crucial
componentof videogarning pleasure is in fact a certain level of anxiety' (2000,18 1).
In adventure games, it necessarily involves the character in whom you invest

emotions,and are anxious about protecting. When your character dies in Resident
Evil - Code: VeronicaX (2001) the screenreads 'You died' (figure 5.3), and I know
rom my own experience of playing the PlayStation version of Doom (1995), that my
partner has commented 'you're bleeding. Obviously, the situation is much more
pronounced with identifiably

investigatingte

human characters, but one set of commentators

'Nintendo generation' were correct when they stated 'children

today are still experiencing early death. They are losing their lives
and dying over

andoveragain' (Green. Reid and Bigurn, 1998,19). Although, as they note, these
are
-279-

Code:
Evil
Resident
in
dying
the video game
Figure 5.3 Repeating the ordeal of
Veronica X
to
develop
the
deaths,
subject
to
the
need
to
you
game
complete
skills
only electronic
trade-off
Frequently,
the
a
to
requires
process
repeated ordeals.
yourself/character
between reducing the credit on your character's health scale ('dying'),

and

jumping
herself
injure
Croft
being
Lara
in
will
succeeding your pursuit, an example
The
it
is
but
therefore
the
operate
games
means
of
escape.
only
of
spikes,
out of a pit
basis.
Consequently,
you must suffer anxiety as you subject
on a risk and reward
if
danger
to
to
you can complete the game: a strategy not
your character
see
dissimilar to extreme sports. And like the physical recreations, most adventure video
gamesare single-person games, where there are no victors. (In some, you can record
a high score, but that is all. ) The pleasure is the fear of 'dying', the enduring of
anxiety, and the completing of the challenge. What the video game offers is a space,
highly controlled, where you experience what is denied in much of the rest of
society: a place to securely feel anxious and in danger. Of course, funfairs and

cinemasoffer an element of the feeling too, but without the same personal
investment,The Game attempts to tap into the video game strategy, and applies it to
cinema.

-280-

Relinquishing Control
of
for
the
its
world
the
The
Game
its
play,
By
realm of
announces concern
very title,
is
itself
The
'game'
not
different rules, the spacefor temporarily abandoningcontrol.
video
it
fuses
the
a
of
structure
with
sports
extreme
traditional play,
elements of
John
defines
trajectory.
in
the
the
turn,
narrative
play
of
electronic
pattern
game,and
decision
is]
trees.
like
jIt
it
describes
this:
Brancato,one of the writers,
of
a series
--A lot of [the film's] logic isn't traditional narrative but rather decision trees and
feature,
Janet
Maslin
2003,111).
(in
Swallow
this
as a negative
saw
game theory'

believing 'the film has the steady momentum and flat trajectory of a video game'
(1997,1). But it is the formal properties of the video game that enable the film to
intended
is
investigation
My
therefore
explore the pleasures of relinquishing control.
helps
how
from
logic
The
Game
this
the
to reveal what
of play, and
video game
raids
in
facilitates
loss
a pleasure
of control, which
offer a comparable space of controlled
briefly
it
is
To
to
the
outline the opening scenes
structure,
necessary
pain.
appreciate

issues
decisionfilm,
indicate
film's
the
the
of
concentrationon
of control and
and
making structure.
Fincher has stated, 'If this movie is about anything, it's about loss of control' (in

Swallow 2003,91). That the control is central is confinned by the introduction of


Michael Douglas as Nicholas Van Orton, a highly successful, but repressively
domineering, business tycoon. Enhanced by the inter-textual knowledge of his

Oscar-winningrole as the ruthlessGordon Gekko in Wall Street (Oliver Stone,USA,


1987), the workaholic Nicholas personifies regimented control as he monitors the

businessmarkets wherever he is: home. car or office. Even to call his mansion
a
homeoverstatesits domicile traits. His shoesecho on the hard floor, and the kitchen,
with its white brick-like tiles and dripping tap, gives an impression of an ordered
institution.At the office, he maintains his rigid isolation by rebuffing an employee's
-281 -

is
he
the
forty-eight,
Now
'
her.
like
don't
'I
birthday
happy
wish with the comment
Nicholas
house:
trauma
from
their
a
father
he
his
the
of
roof
was
when
plunged
age
evidentlywitnessed.
his
by
the
prankster
His ordered life has been immediately unsettled
return of
Conrad
by
is
first
Nicholas
brother Conrad (Sean Penn). At his club,
embarrassed
brother
his
the
and
joke,
before
waiters
orchestrating
suffering
playing a practical
Nicholas's
But
Birthday'.
throw
'Happy
in
what will
a serenade of
waitresses

Consumer
introduction
birthday
is
to
into
Conrad's
gift of an
chaos
controlledworld
RecreationServices (CRS), for what he calls 'A profound life experience.'
Reluctantly accepting the offer, his protective layers of control are immediately
he
forced
CRS
Initially
the
to
appears
reception, something
wait at
stripped away.
he
is
finally
dealt
to,
with, an apparently unprofessional
when
unaccustomed
his
lunch
hold
Rebhorn),
Nicholas
Jim
Feingold
(James
take-away
to
asks
employee,
impatient
is
he
An
Nicholas
the
whilst
collects
paperwork.
offered vague answers
it
Feingold
Told
'game'.
the
the
about
nature of what
calls
provides 'whatever's
lacking', Nicholas attempts to assert authority by asking what happens if nothing is
lacking, before questioning, 'Do you really think that I will participate without
knowing anything?' Yet, rather than leave, Nicholas undertakes a seemingly neverending series of intrusive medical and psychological tests; the game is beginning to
take chargeof his life, and he is forced to cancel a business meeting just to complete
the successionof examinations.
Away from CRS, the game remains an enigma. A past participant
merely
describesit with the cryptic reference, 'John, Chapter 9, Verse 25. Whereas
once

\\-isblind. now I can see.' His interest heightened,Nicholas's potential to control the
situatioii (to play, or not to play) is immediately denied him, as he is brusquely
informedthat his application has beenrejected.Humiliated, he lies to Conrad that he
-282-

his
in
dummy
sprawled
is too busy to participate. Returning home, he finds a clown
its
In
from
fallen
he
had
mouth
his
father
had
been
the
drivewayexactly as
roof
after
is a key marked CRS.
Unaware the clown contains a camera, Nicholas takes it into the library,
is
key
the
directly,
him
the
television
the
explaining
newscasteraddresses
whereupon
first of many, and Nicholas needsto be alert to discover more, and opportunities to
for
has
the
Doubt
to
the
though
them.
started,
as
whether
game
remains
use
As
broadcast
housekeeper
the
the
to
the
room.
televisionreverts
enters
normal
when
for the objectiveof the game,Nicholas is merely told that solving that is the object of
the game. What is thus established is that Nicholas is no longer fully in control,
having obliviously brought the game into his home. The sentiment is confirmed by
the ironic close-up of the display on the security alann that reads 'house secure'.
The next day, the game begins in earnest when Nicholas's overreaction prompts
the sacking of a clumsy waitress called Christine (Deborah Kara Unger). Following
her becausea note tells him not to let her get away, they are both bundled off in an
ambulanceas witnesses to a man collapsing in the street. At the hospital, the lights
go out, everyone, except Christine, runs off, and their only way out appears to be via
lift,
a
which starts when Nicolas uses the CRS key. What is most interesting about
the sequence is that Christine surreptitiously takes control. She reveals the
ambulanceis full of props, and chooses the direction they leave by, and although
Nicholas questions her reasoning, he follows. For the
remainder of their escape, she

initiates:inviting Nicholas to climb out


lift
hatch
the
of
when the elevator stops,
telling him to run when they trigger an alarm in the CRS building they discover

themselvesin, and she knows they should watch out for nails
and rats in the
abandonedbuilding, and that there should be a fire escape. To conclude their
oetaway.she is the one that falls first into one of the twin dumpsters that
are
-283-

like
prompts
She
who
below
fire
broken
guide
a
the
acts
escape.
conveniently
in
Subsidiary
first
level of the game.
Nicholas through the
characters video games
The
Raider:
Tomb
in
Croy
Von
functions
for
Christine,
to
example,
performsimilar
2:
Solid
Gear
in
Metal
Campbell
Last Revelation (1999) and Otacon and Colonel
Rather
do
(2001)
Liberty
Sons of
tell you/your character what to
at various stages.
than mentors, they act as guides, informing you/your character of the action you
Christine
first
(via
being
By
follow.
that
the
to
pretext
go
subtly
pushed
should

in
feel
is
is
knickers),
Nicholas
to
made
cannotclimb ahead as she not wearing
from
ledges
in
jumping
Oust
Further,
the
and clambering
as a video game).
control
through windows makes the opening of the 'game' very similar to platform video
Donkey
(1981),
but
like
Tomb
Kong
those
of
with quest elements
games such as
Raider (figures 5.4 and 5.5). In other words, the hanging from precarious places is an
ingrained aesthetic of suffering in such video games; and as with video games,
Nicholas's 'game' has 'rails' that have shepherdedhim on a specific trajectory.
The very premise of the 'game', namely collecting keys to be used at specific
moments,is a staple of many video games. By rationing when doors/locks can be
opened,it produces a 'hard rails' structure that ensures only certain routes in the
gameare avai ae

to the player. Although Nicholas's game has 'softer rails' than

that(he could track down Christine's home much earlier than he does), the film uses
thesamemotif for structure.Noticeably, The Game also utilizes innocuous items for
importantroles in the 'game', and they ftuiction. like the objects characterscollect
and interact with in adventure video games. Thus, the CRS pen Nicholas is
given
leaks in his pocket, increasing his
levels
before his important business
anxiety

meetmo.There he is unable to unlock his briefcase, even with the CRS key (was
thereanotherone he could have found?), and so
issue
the severancecontract
cannot
to sackIlis businesspartner Anson Baer (Annin Mueller-Stahl). Consequently,
he
-284-

Tomb
in
fire
the
balconies
game
video
between
Climbing
escapes
5.4
and
Figure
Raider: Angel of Darkness

Figure 5.5 Replicating the climbing from a platform video game in The Game
displaysa frenzied loss of control as he smashesthe briefcase, but only when he is
later
be
lost
during
from
The
Anson.
securelyaway
case, along with a shoe, would
the escapefrom the hospital; Nicholas is quite literally stripped of his controlled
0

lifestyle.
The prime example of a usable object in the film is the handle Nicholas finds
(figure 5.6). He only discovers a use for it later when he is locked in the back of a
taxi and driven at speed into a harbour. As the car sinks in the water, he says to

hiinself. 'It's a game. It's a game,, at which point he realizes he needs to


use the
liandleto unwind the window and escape(figure 5-7). The purpose
of each object
-285-

Game
The
in
Discovery
Figure 5.6
of a usable object

Figure 5.7 Discovering the use for the usable object in The Game
his
And
journeys
Nicholas
the
discovered
has
be
through
game.
to
therefore
as
inspect
it
having
Nicholas
by
the
or
object
cinematic style usually emphasizes
displaying it in close up (figures 5.8 and 5.9). Even the seemingly insignificant takehis
interview
by
Feingold
handed
Nicholas
to
to
application
away carton
prior
providesthe clue to resolving the game.
For Nicholas, the game functions like a video game by putting him at the centre
of the events.He appears in every scene, and things happen to him, and as a result of
what he does. Nicholas is used to wielding power, so Jonathan Romney is correct to
notethat the newscaster appeals to Nicholas's narcissism via the comment, 'This is
your game. Nicholas' (1998,40). However, it also equates to Steven Poole stating

-286-

Game
The
in
isolating
the
usable object
Figure 5.8 Scrutinizing and

Figure 5.9 Emphasizing the usable object in The Game


for
deterministic
have
in
'actions
characters
that video games
consequences
always
but
Nicholas,
is
The
'game'
(2000,54).
to
tailored
a good video
certainly
or events'
in
both
Yet,
its
feels
largely
the
video games and
game
responsiveness.
same via
Nicholas's 'game', this is an illusion of control. Nicholas is empowered to use the
keys,but ultimately, he is being manipulated into doing what he does.
Let me make it perfectly clear, The Game deals thematically with what is at stake

in a video game,namely the illusion of control in the structured environment of the


-gamC. I am not arguing that it is some hybridization of film and the interactive
niediuin of computer games. It does not borrow from the digital aesthetics of games

asTheMatrix does.or referencethem in the manner of Series 7: The Contenders.It

its
's
doesnot trade on the sensorialinteractivity like David Cronenberg eXistenZ,and
filmslIndiana
Jones
in
Indiana
is
the
not
part
of
crossoverrelationship seen
narrative
19
Jones games and Tomb Raider gameslTomb Raider films, with their quest

peril.
people
in
with
puzzles
stylized
artefacts
and
collectable
structures,

20Rather,

The Game taps into the essential pleasures of video games: a space of emotionally

'game'
The
by
invested
risk, yet cocooned an element of security.
and sensorially
doesup the ante though, for it enhancesthe feeling of real danger through being a
fusion of video games, role-play and extreme sports. Nicholas has to complete
invest
his
in
he
does
demanding
tasks;
concerns an electronic
not merely
physically
point of identification.
Furthermore, there are what appear to be physical risks undertaken by Nicholas:
he does climb up a lift shaft, he has to jump from a fire escape, and he does have to

himself
from
in
harbour.
he
That
taxi
the
extricate
a
sinking
and the audienceare told
before
denouement
'There
the
that
just
was always a safety net', such as rescue
divers waiting when the car plunged into the water, confirms it was a game, but does
deny
his fears whilst 'acting out' his role in the 'game'. I will come to whether
not
Nicholas ultimately believes it is a game later, but at the beginning of the 'game', he
surely does. And although he may have trusted that precautions would have been
taken, he would still be engaging in a risky pursuit, for even extreme sports
enthusiaststake safety measures.Thus, the activity Nicholas initially willingly agrees
to play is founded on feelings of anxiety and danger, and physical punishment of the

body (cuts, bruises, exhaustion). All of which


deemed
desirable in a
therefore
are
oame.
t,
19TheIndiana
Jones films are, Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1981), Indiana Jones
andthe Templeof Doom (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
(Ste\*enSpielberg,USA, 1989), whilst the Indiana Jones gamesinclude Raiders the Lost Ark
of
t
(1982)andIndiana
Jones and the Emperor's Tomb (2003).
20We
might note though that it is perhapsnot incidental that Michael Douglas also starred in
Roniancingthe Stone(Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1984), film inspired by
Raiders of the Lost Ark.
a

-288-

A
logic.
in
close
the
is
it is significant that The Game not alone touching on
is
the watching/feeling/experiencing
cinematic comparison

in
of playback clips

blackby
described
the
StrangeDays (Kathryn Bigelow, USA, 1995), which are
It's
life.
is
life.
It's
'This
(Ralph
Fiennes)
Lenny
a piece of somebody's
as,
marketeer

21
'
His
the
from
same
the
undergo
customers
cortex.
cerebral
straight
uncut,
pureand
blackjack,
is
One
in
the
the
the
clips
genre of
clip.
person
as
responses
sensorial
(Richard
dealer,
Tick
fellow
dies
A
(intentionally
or otherwise).
wherethe person
Edson),declarestheseare 'what people wanna see'. Albeit that Lenny describesthe
deathsensationas a zap that 'brings down your whole day', the suggested popularity

indicatesa desire for the fear, pain and sensorialoverload: to feel death and not die,
but
it.
feet
Like
Caillois's
his/her
tooth, the players of
control
child and
pain
and
blackjack clips want to toy with the pain sensation. It is therefore appropriate that a
band in Strange Days sing the lyric 'I'll make you lick my injuries. 22Unlike The
Game,the controlled body is not the central theme of Strange Days. Further, it would

be appositeto note that through both their name and function, the SQUIDS used to
play the clips are perhaps closer to the game pods that plug into the spinal column in
VistenZ
than the play environ of The Game.
e.
The blurring of the game world/virtual world and reality does, of course, feature
in all three films, and it is unsurprising that the ambiguous status of reality inclines
itself towards a state of paranoia for the subject. In Strange Days, Philo, (Michael

Wincott) is said to have become 'such a control freak' after 'doing way too
much
piayback.' In eXistenZ, real life might feel 'safe' and 'boring' for Allegra (Jennifer
Thephrase'pure and uncut', with the implication of drugs, is
not without relevance. The altered
statesoffered by drugs verge on the notion of the controlled body, after all, you choose(although
addictionmakesthis a moot point) when to take them. But the nature of narcotics (as well
as the issue
OfPurity)leavesthe experienceof a high lacking the assuredquality of a controlled
space.We should
alsonotethat the terminology of drugs pervadesextreme sports through the term 'adrenalin junky',
whilstthe pleasureof BDSM is frequently explained by the releaseof the human body's
own highinducingdrug, endorphin.
2-1
TheI)TiCis from the
song 'Rid of Me', which was originally recorded by PJ Harvey in 1993.

-289-

player
a
her
prompts
but
it
like
to
and
Leigh),
companion,
Jason
a game'
also 'feels
tell
'Hey,
film's
closure,
(andprobably the cinematic audiencetoo) to plead at the
Game
The
Similarly,
magnifies
in
and
prompts
the
truth,
the
gameT
are we still
me
is
it
doubt
begins
a
Nicholas
all
to
'game'
For
whether
the
progresses,
as
suspicion.
his
him
designed
fraud
is
it
to
money.
of
out
swindle
an
elaborate
whether
game,or
is
Nicholas
blackmail,
First unsure whether some events are really attempted
before
Christine
him,
is
CRS
Conrad
by
that
convinces
persecuting
then told
Nicholasthat CRS has clearedout his bank accounts.Amidst the doubts, a telephone
in a public phone booth replays a conversationNicholas has just had, and he later
forced
identity
in
in
Mexico,
to
battered
and
stripped
of
all
cut
a
grave
and
wakesup
23
'game'
had
belonged
his
father.
That
to
the
that
the
whole
precious watch
sell
be
for
fraud
has
David
with
a smokescreen
an elaborate
resonances
might only
Mamet's House of Games (USA, 1987). Featuring similar acts of deception directed
both
the protagonist and the audience, a psychologist, Margaret (Lindsay Crouse),
at

followsa confidencetrickster's exploits ('confidence games' as he calls them), but in


tum is conned by him. Fake deaths and false reality are explored as he steals her
money, and there is even an acknowledgment of the masochistic impulse in
Margaret's relationship with him, for a note in her journal reads, 'The necessity to
find a place to be humiliated, a place to go back to again and
again.' Both films
indicate how convenient it is to elide play into mind games and scams, especially
whenthe unsettling masochistic pleasures of the games are to the fore.
In The Game, at stake is an issue of reality, not quite
virtual reality, but an

artificial reality nonetheless.Jonathan Romney locates The Game alongside Dark


01Y (Alex Proyas, USA, 1998)
and The Truman Show (Peter Weir, USA, 1998) in a
11
'The themes loss identity
of
of
and paranoia also pervade The Net (Irwin Winkler, USA, 1995), a
film written by the
writing partnership of John Brancato and Michael Ferris who also wrote The
Gaine.The two films
even share the feature of a character abandoned in Mexico.

-290-

is
of
the
deffiiing
addressing
films
the
characteristic
where
of
new
paranoia
category
be
to
it
turn
out
that
all
the
might
thequestionablesurface of reality and
possibility
is
to
what
in
Immersion
0
998,39).
fabrication'
conducive
world
another
pure
is
The
bleed-through
in
concePt
'a
effect'.
Allegra calls eXistenZ very weird reality
has
Wright
Talmadge
and
gainers
known
to
surveyed
players of video games.
well
foundthat even when they had finished playing, participants in an all-night game of
for
look
Counter-Strike (1999) 'would
around their enviromnent scanning
24
That
2003,52).
the
Poole
first
(in
15
for
least
the
minutes'
combatants,at
is
is
temporary
the
reassuring,
challenging sensory overload of games
of
aftereffect
but the paranoiac quality is quite apparent. The Game depicts the sensation quite
his
day
Nicholas
'game',
The
a slow-motion sequence shows
starts
after
astutely.
him carefully scanning the occupants of the airport lounge for objects to use in the
game', at one point picking up a child's toy clown thinking it is a CRS clue.
As the leakage is directional from the video games to the 'real', it ensures play
by
The
being
In
Game,
the
can continue without
real.
corrupted/interrupted
paranoia
prevents 'reality' becoming pure play, for the events affecting Nicholas have a
duality of meaning. That paranoia is key seems evident in the choice of Daniel

Schorras the newscasterwho invades the space of the home games console (the
television) and directly informs Nicholas of 'a few ground rules' for playing the
.game'. Schorr is a real-life journalist, well known for his exclusive reports on the
Watergate hearing, and arranging to publish the suppressed findings on US
25
Schorr
is
intelligenceagencies.
a man enveloped in paranoia.
The sense that someone or something is pulling the strings, is in
control,
24RandySchroeder
(1996) has also examined these leakagesvia a combination of what he terms
Huizinga'sconceptof
JeanBaudrillard's theodzing of the simulacrum. Schroeder
playspace
and
I
concludesthat in hypothesizing about the hyperreal the parametersof play must not be forgotten
as
we
increasingh,
immersive media as 'real' worlds and not playspace.
experience
2He 1addedthe sametone to The Net.

-291 -

Nicholas's
financial
for
done
or
being
it
is
gain
The
Game,
whether
pervades
in
version
his
updated
Although
an
own ghosts
apparently exorcizing
entertainment.
don't
'I
money'
it
is
Nicholas's
Carol,
about
Christmas
A
care
protestation,
not
of
'I
desire
meet
it
is
his
his
is
he
wanna
of
exclaimed
catharsis,
that reveals
reaching
USA,
Fleming,
Oz
(Victor
Wizard
The
'
His
Wizard.
of
comment references
the
linear
its
dual
narrative
9)'26
193
the archetypal
realities movie, which, with
it
to
to
similar
encompassinga series of encounters and obstacles overcome, makes

identity
the
in
Oz,
Nicholas
Dorothy
Like
the
of
craves
the video game structure.
he
has
demand
he
his
by
hand.
In
no control.
admits
making
effect,
controlling
Crucially, the admission of his loss of control allows the 'game' to progress towards
conclusion.
A fundamental issue remains though: Nicholas has partaken in the 'game', but
hashe played it? For Caillois and Huizinga, an essential property of play is choosing
to do so and therefore gaining enjoyment, and for my contention that there is
in
he
temporarily
pleasure
abandoning control,
must therefore play. When, in his

he
paranoidstate,
shoots the 'Wizard', who tums out to be merely his brother
orchestrating the play, Nicholas does not take pleasure in the 'game'. But by
prompting him to replicate his father in a suicidal plunge from the roof of a building,
the remorseftil Nicholas removes the shackles of his ancestry. That Nicholas's jump
was pre-planned/predestined by the 'game' (presumably guided by the responses

givenwhenregistering),confinns the 'hard rails' structureof this part of the 'game',


andensuresthat breakawayglassand airbagsare below to cushion his fall. Whilst his
tatherworked too hard, Nicholas has now discoveredthe joy of play
its
'escape
and
fromresponsibilityand routine' (Caillois 1961,6).

2oAlthough
there are other versions of the film, as well as L. Frank Baum's novel, I would suggest it
is themorefamiliar film
version that is being referenced.

-292-

dead
is
Conrad
not
No doubt, at the end, relief is Nicholas's central emotion: that
is
he
But
with
it
fake
blood),
paired
that
also
(his wounds are only
a
game.
was
and
been
has
'never
his
his ex-partnerAnson, who since agreeingto
severancepackage
his
is
thanking
The
Nicholas
happier'.
also much more approachable,
changed
fact
her
husband,
the
friendly
his
being
brother,
to
and rectifying
new
ex-wife and
Nicholas
least,
her
Retrospectively
Christine
had
he
at
that
name.
never asked
from
loss
did
he
But
'game'.
the
escape
of control,
also enjoy the
enjoyedthe
responsibility?
Feingold told Nicholas at the CRS interview he could drop out anytime (a
drowns
for
it
be
but
he
legal,
be
Is
After
to
to
this
also
nearly
play).
so?
prerequisite
in the taxi, and Conrad accuses him of conspiring with CRS against him, Nicholas
does appear to wish to stop events, and contacts the police to investigate the now
is
However,
it
down,
there
to
track
vanishedcompany.
no concerted effort
and rather
than using a private detective agency, Nicholas continues the hunt for Christine
Furthermore,
he
does not call the emergency contact telephone number for
alone.
CRS that he was given by the newscaster. The implication is that Nicholas is
enjoying attempting to solve it on his own. Other pointers also suggest he likes the
danger,as well as events being slightly out of his control. The morning after fleeing
the hospital with Christine, Nicholas is awoken by a telephone call from his worried

secretary:he has not arrived for a meeting and it is eleven o'clock. Indicative of his
gradual slide from regimentation, the duration of his sleep implies a contentedness

notwitnessedin his life until then.


Furthermore.Nicholas appearsintrigued by the 'game" and its
challenge to his
control. Just before Conrad arrives to tell him that CRS are persecuting him,
Nicholasdiscovershis house has been broken into. The
have
been vandalized
walls
with graffiti. and a crime scenephotographof his dead father has been left in
a room
-293-

brothers
When
the
'
I
before
father
'Like
sleep.
eternal
choose
me,
my
note:
with a
this
'control
to
Nicholas
trying
Conrad
with
charges
subsequently argue,
'
dad.
to
'Nobody
play
freak',
being
you
'control
asked
and notably,
a
conversation',
limitations
from
of
the
fortuitous
is
'play'
accident arising
Theuseof the word
not a
').
have
I
do
('Did
feels
Nicholas
to
it
is
choice?
a
compelled
what
vocabulary;rather
being
to
repeat
the
dilute
The
condemned
of
notion
around
psychology ordered
is
The
interest
the
little
that
is
father
to
controlled
point
the
me.
of
the sins of
is
'game'
The
losing
ideal
is
'game'
to
the
the
control.
practice
space
of
environment

father,
his
be
but
had
felt
he
life,
Nicholas
to
In
choice
no
role-play.
as
sport
extreme
father's
in
But
'game'.
he
the
the
the
apparently overwhere
role
continued
and

developedsearch for control led to what appearsto be suicide, the rules of the
denied
is
he
is
because
for
This
forgiving
Nicholas.
it
6game'make more
actually
he
is
deprived
in
illusion
being
Thus,
the
throughout,
of
control.
of
under
control

but
lives.
death;
he
his
doom,
Like
to
the
a video
plunges
even ultimate choice of
his
life
he
And
game, can press reset and start
again.
as per countless video games,
the play is the end in itself, it cannot be won only completed. But The Game takes
the conceptone stage further: only by losing can you end the 'game'.
Although not founded on the repetition of 'dying over and over again' of

electronicdeaths (Green, Reid and Bigum 1998,19), there does appear to be a


comparableimpulse. The 'game' is probably not repeatable in the manner of a video
ganie,although an earlier draft of the script did end on the image of graffiti stating
'Level Two' besides an upward-pointing arrow, therefore suggesting the next stage

of the 'game' (Swallow 2003,109). However, the 'game' does make a different
relationshipto life and death quite apparent.Indeed, StevenPoole's analysis of how
-videogames
redefine a "life" as an expendable,iterable part of a larger campaign' is
applicable(2000,68). Conrad is killed, and Nicholas kills himself, yet both live to
-294-

failure'
for
the
button
For
of
Poole,
sin
'instant
tale.
the
expiation
the
tell
means
reset
(2000,68); Nicholas's sins of obsessively taking control and excluding others are
is
false
death,
his
factor
'game':
but
is
aim.
an
to
there
one,
a
albeit
another
absolved,
fate
be
die,
the
awaits
In video games,you/your charactercannot
same
reborn;
only
have
James
Catherine
like
Crash,
just
Therefore,
the end of
Nicholas.
and
where
but
'maybe
in
the
failed their attemptedsuicide car wreck, you can think
next one',
in the meantime, you can thrive on the closenessto death. David Le Breton has
describedhow in extreme sports, 'A deal is made symbolically with Death, with the
body as the cuffency' (2000,6). The participant takes voluptuous pleasure in what
it
fear,
death
is
the
the
with
arise,
and
although
aim,
ean
always
never
otherswould
live
life
is
has
become
but
It
that
to
the
tending
ethos
ever closer.
a cliche,
pursuits
fully, you must live in fear of death. Le Breton puts it more prosaically when he
is
life
'playing
that
the
on
states
razor's edge an elegant way of putting one's
on a par
for
instant
in
Death
its
to
with
an
order
steal some of
power' (2000,7).

It is a

heightenedform of tipping a chair back on the two rear legs, and feeling the thrill of
oscillating on the cusp of safety and disaster. If you were not frightened that you
might actually fall backwards, there would be no fun. Extreme sports like BASE
jumping or the 'game' take the fear and raid the pain barriers too, but the fonner is
moreexplicit about its pleasures of enjoying pushing the body's limits.
In spite of all the emphasis on enduring and suffering, the underlying
masochisticimpulse remains implicit rather than explicit in The Game. Nicholas is

not told at the outsetthat he will nearly drown, be shot at, jump from buildings and
beabandonedin Mexico, so he cannot declare, in
extreme sport style, 'bring it on'.
Nor is the fact that it is
is,
for
that
a game,
pleasure, apparent throughout, because the
threatthat it may be a financial fraud legitimates Nicholas"s
persistence (although, as

I liave mentioned,there is the


him
being
intrigued and not taking the
element of
-295-

in
hints
pleasure
Yet,
a
of
detective).
there
are
easieroption of employing a private
BDSMdelights
into
the
of
the
ties
that
enterprise
whole
pain
drugs
and
bedroom
hotel
believes
Nicholas
containing
When
a staged
incredible
he
by
Anson,
blackmail
is
makes a most
incriminatingphotographs a
plot
Polaroids
he
a
importance,
the
onto
dismiss
throws
Attempting
their
to
statement.
butt-fucking
have
'You
pictures of me wearing nipple-rings,
can
table and shouts,
27
Captain Kangaroo [for all I care]'. Besides the homosexual reference, the piercing

incident,
isolated
As
BDSM
the
hint
not
would
phrasing
an
scene.
accoutrements at a
had
had
he
by
his
film,
in
but
a
beso strange, earlier the
ex-wife whether
when asked
but
'I
the
Nicholas
through
birthday,
twice
spanking
not
once,
went
replied,
good

flashed
image
during
In
'
test,
the
a seriesof words were
response
machine. addition,
Orgasm,
Submission,
Masculinity,
in-between
the
the
sequence ran:
pictures;
up
Death, Fornication, and after cutting away to another shot, Commitment. We could

is
by
Conrad's
'game'
the
tone
the
that
choice of
of
also established
alsonote
sexual
invitation:
he
his
CRS
Seymour
Nicholas
Butts.
pseudonym when
gives

28

The

BDSM quotient, while never made overt, serves as an undercurrent to support the
treatiseof relinquishing control.
By choosing the video game-like structure, the topic of control would,
inherently, be prominent, and Fincher exploits this by deploying a protagonist
with
problemsrelinquishing control. But the pleasure Nicholas gains from the pursuit is
niostly delayed or disguised. Extreme sports, as Le Breton's work shows, are

orientatedaround the pleasures of their extreme sensations (pain, enduring,


Sliffering), not about overcoming, completing or catharsis. Even video games have
27The
senseof 'deviancyI is heightenedwhen you know that Captain Kangaroo was the host of a
children'stelevision show that ran on CBS from 1955 to 1984.
ThenameSeymourButts is particularly associated
with the pornography filmmaker Adam Glasser
110
usesit as his pseudonym,and he has even produced a pornographic video game that features his
Persona
asthe characteryou play (Tang 1999,178).

-296-

That
the
the
imaginary
dangersthat quicken the pulse and stretch
nerves.
tangibleyet
task
a
on
emphasis
greater
puts
games
video
adventure
structure
of
narrative
puzzle
(like
be
sport),
to
extreme
be
an
than
enjoyed
a painful pursuit
to
completedrather
destroying,
the
but
diminishing,
disguising
towards
they
tend
not
that
and
means
Nicholas's
having
By
the
adventure
their
of
subplot
status.
masochistic
of
clarity
loses
body
being
the
the
of
video garne partially
controlled
a
scam,
potentially
the
its
touchstone
so
and
of enjoying painful yet pleasurable pursuits,
contact with

flavours
is
disavowed.
That
a
the
again
and
once
stimulus
remains,
motivation
Furthermore,
body's
Hollywood.
to
the
controlled
appeal
narrative, says much about
for
film
displays
disowned,
the
the
sensorial
curiosity
a
more
pronounced
although
limits of the human body than most, and suggests that David Fincher was in tune
In
for
fusing
film
His
this.
trend
the
pain and pleasure.
next
confirmed
cultural
with
for
The
Game
trial
acted as a
run
a more explicit tackling of masochistic
effect,
in
button
directed
David
Fincher
Fight
Club.
the
reset
and
pleasures pain.
pressed

A Pleasure That Can't Be Beaten


Fight Club is a film that generates extreme responses and adamant interpretations.
Henry A. Giroux has castigated what he perceives as the film's reduction of the crisis
of capitalism to a crisis of masculinity whereby it is 'a morally bankrupt and
politically reactionary film'

(2002,274).

Further, he states it depicts 'deeply

conventional views of violence, gender relations, and masculinity' (2002,261 ).29

Conversely,both SusanFaludi (in Giroux 2002,277) and Alexandra Juhasz(2002,


210)describeFight Club as a feminist film. Apparently in
partial agreement with the

29Giroux
rightly notes that like 'any other cultural text, [Fight Club] can be read differently by
differentaudiences'(2002,282), but finds it
works 'pedagogically to legitimate some meanings,
inviteparticulardesires,
and exclude others' (2002,282). For Giroux, there is no doubt that Fight
Clubneedsto have its 'ideological
contradictions and political absences'addressedby works like his
(2002,283).

-297-

'a
film
satiric
(2002,321)
the
as
latter two comments, Christopher Sharrett
reads
for
films
1995),
([USAJ
that
Braveheart
like
Mel
Gibson's
yearn
to
works
response
legendary
by
triumphs of primeval
to
reference
the restoration of male authority
its
heroes'.
Differences
the
cultural
of
relevance
surrounding
also
arise
patriarchal
it
found
'struck
Jack,
Norton,
Ed
that
with
chord
a
generational
who
plays
context.
'parody
describes
Club
Fight
Charlotte
Hooper
1999,12);
Fuller
(in
of
as
a
me'
(2002,
US
therapy
and violence'
culture: consumerism,
somecore obsessionsof
131); and JeanneWolff Bernstein seesit as 'a modem rendition of the ancient motif
doppelgdnger'
(2002,1192).
the
of

Consequently, all three situate the film as a

its
In
have
time.
contrast,
of
somecritics
witnessedan addressingof
specificproduct
timeless and universal concerns. Christopher Deacy compares it with American
Beauty (Sam Mendes, USA, 1999) to locate 'potent religious parables' pertinent to
the nature of human existence (2002,62), and Terrell Carver discussesFight Club as
an allegory, with Everyman at the centre' (2002,129). The resulting conclusions are
equally mixed: where Deacy sees a textual grappling with the 'efficacy

of

confrontation as a means of attaining redemption' (2002,61), with the verdict that


there is such a potential, Charlotte Hooper believes the film shows 'that fighting
offers no real redemption' (2002,13 1).
My intention is therefore not to add yet another layer of meaning to the film,

althoughthis cannot be totally avoided, rather what I have to say does not need to
define our understanding of Fight Club, but instead illuminate
what the other
readingsacknowledge but avoid seeking an interpretation of I aim to make manifest
\N-hatis left unspoken. Nearly every review notes the film's display of masochism,
andmost discern the sexual frisson of it, yet its ftmction as the underlying structural

premiseis ignored. My task is to uncloak what has remained hidden, namely the
cliaracters'needfor pain, their searchfor control, and their desireto temporarily lose
-298-

in
(but
a controlled space).
control
The tentative depiction of extremeplay found in The Game becomesa veritable
Club,
in
Fight
thus
aestheticized
and
pleasure
masochistic
painful
of
explosion
the
biggest
film
Beginning
fundamental
the
is
organ,
the
to
sexual
with
suffering
BDSM)
but
brain (a cliche,
vital to all notions of sexual role-play, most especially

for
desire
Club
Fight
the
through
sensual
a
course
charts
a
penis,
with
and ending
he
him
by
doctor
his
tells
see
Denied
should
who
a
of
sleeplessness
suffering
pain.
Jack
is,
know
to
what real pain
the members of the testicular cancer support group

findscomfort in attendingmeetingsfor diseasesand disordershe doesnot have. The


hope
his
insomnia:
found
freedom.
Losing
immediately
'I
therapysessions
all
cure
lose
like
beginning
in
freedom.
'
Just
Nicholas
The
Game
to
oversleeping
after
was
finds
his
in
him
Jack
'let
the
to
go'
crying
company of suffering allows
somecontrol,
find
don't
'Babies
and
rest:
sleep this well. '
Although he lacks their physical pain, the afflictions of the legitimate attendees
arecrucial to both him and the film. In another support group, all those present have
to imagine their pain as a white ball of healing light; a psychological reversal, the

exerciseis designedto draw strength from their pain. The film thus mediates on a
discourse of pain: how it is conceptualized and how it is dealt with,
or more
accurately,how it is denied. For Jack, the embracing of pain creates a quintessential
video gameexperience: 'Every evening I died. And every evening I was bom again.'
Whereasthe support group members 'give
each other strength' through enduring
their respectivesuffering, Jack finds liberation in their pain.

His succour evaporatesand his sleeplessnessreturns


he
when
notices Marla
(HelenaBonhamCarter). another 'tourist 9, attending the
meetings. It is now that he
encountersTyler Durden, a charismatic soap seller, who spouts Nietzscheana
influencedbrand of homespunphilosophy. Immediately after their
encounter,Jack's
-299-

to
for
Tyler
he
to
somewhere
blown
turns
is
and
up,
trendy apartment mysteriously
job
coordinator,
recall
Rejecting
vehicle
the
a
motor
as
numbnessof a corporate
stay.
IKEA
become
the
had
to
('I
lifestyle
defined
by
slave
a
choices
and an existence
the
However,
in
finds
Jack
instinct'),
slumber.
sanctuary
more
once
nesting
is
the
in
US
their
therapy culture are gone, and
place
traditional support groups of the
the
Here
Durden.
him
Tyler
by
founded
Club
Fight
experience
can
men
and
secretive
heightenedpleasures of physical violence, and the catharsis of physical pain.

Tyler
deceit
do
discover
the
the major
Only retrospectively
narrative:
of
we
Durden is Jack's alter ego. As the same person, he has both physically and mentally
been wrestling with himself Later in this chapter, I will attend to the matter of
The
Game),
feature
(a
as well as analyse some
we also noted of
alternative realities
key scenes displaying the film's engagement with the desire for pain within the
infuses
how
First,
I
the
the
to
control
notion
of
wish
establish
sporting environment.

text,andintersectswith the themesof the film.


Near the beginning, Jack embarks on narrating the events that have led up to that
he
in
Looking
towards
the
moment.
camera,
says a voiceover, 'No wait. Back up. Let

me startearlier', before proceedingto tell of events six months earlier. Later in the
film, the image freezes on Tyler, and Jack announces, 'Let me tell you a little bit

aboutTyler Durden.' In the next shot, Jack breaksthe fourth wall and addressesthe
audience.Becauseof these events,and others that serveto also deconstructcinema,
Jackis defined as a controlling force over the narrative. In other words, control is
eN,
en within the agenda of the film's formal properties. However, Jack's authority

overthe narrativeis contradictedby a narrative that suggestsall white, heterosexual


inales,includingJack, are deniedtheir legitimate powerful status.
The central premise. and one frequently voiced by Tyler, is that in the
current
consumeristsociety. men have lost their traditional roles ('The things you own end
-300-

know
I
what
like
do
(Tike,
and
feminized
have
been
you
guys
why
up owning you'),
),
the
hunter-gatherer
word?
in
of
is?
Is
sense
duvet
this
to
essential our survival a
a
if
('I'm
another
dangerous
from
wondering
the
threat
sex
opposite
and are under
the
denied
is
of
Jack
the
is
effect
soporific
the
even
we
need').
answer
really
woman
has
Marla
because
Together),
Men
(Remaining
also
testicular cancer support group
Tyler's
of
The
to
view
therefore
joined this male sanctuary.
confirm
appears
situation

fear
the
is
Marla
the
the
of
of
embodiment
the emasculatingeffect of women:
founded
Tyler
Jack
That
and
pain
on
space
an
all-male
and
seek
castratingwoman.
fighting, and which is outside a culture they regard as defined by femininity, also
30
he
Giroux
depiction
But
misleads when
of women.
supports the negative

follows:
film
the
as
characterizes
its intensely misogynist representation of women, and its intimation that
dire
be
is
the
through
the
which men can
cleansed of
only means
violence
identities.
have
(2002,275)
the
their
on
shaping of
affect women
Furthermore,it is wrong to see Fight Club and/or the Fight Clubs in the film, as 'a
defenseof a highly stereotypical and limited senseof masculinity' (2002,271), for as
Smith and Lisle note, 'the film attacks both hegemonic Rambo-fed muscle pumping
masculinity and the complacency of "new-man" feminist-friendly,
manhood' (2002,134).

IKEA-draped

What the film and the clubs offer is a space to explore

masculinity not negate fernininity. My reading is supported by David Whitson's


findings in respect of sports: 'What is really threatened by the entry of women into
male preservesis opportunities for men to rehearse their ties as men and reaffirm
their differences from women' (1990,26). Whilst in practice this frequently means

the bawdy locker-room banter that demeans and objectifies women (and
nonheterosexual
bolsters
it
is
in
the
men), and
male power,
not
case Fight Club. Women
10
. Thesituationreplicatesthe suggestionby Kevin Sheardand Eric Dunning that the development
of
ru-by football as a male preserve was a responseto the rise of the suffragette movement (in Kidd
1990,36).

-301 -

do not feature in the limited conversationsof the clubs, and rather than reinforcing
and
in
be
terms
violence
it
to
physique,
of
male,
traditional masculinity, what means
is
control, redefined.
is,
Club
Fight
all
importance
with
Giroux
as
the
Fundamentally,
play.
of
neglects
it
Giroux
1970,26),
life'
(Huizinga
with
"real"
"ordinary"
charges
not
yet
or
play,
(2002,
for
'the
the
same'
failing in its critique of capitalism,
outside world remains
to
ftmction
its
it
is
to
the
a
space
However,
that
as
271).
club
enables
separation
involves
demonstrate,
I
these
quite
a
of
one
will
and
as
negotiatemasculinities,
BDSM
Like
the
different
artificial
and
role-play,
of
manhood.
construction
radically
the
allows
space
play
communities,
and
on-line
games
via
video
offer
on
realities
in
Fight
it
describes
'Who
Jack
thus:
you were
people to try on new personalities;

Clubwasnot who you were in the rest of the world. '


We should not confuse separation with isolation though. We saw with The Game
the bleed-through from play to reality. The images and actions in Fight Club do
disturb boundaries and have the potential to shape the world beyond. Within the
diegesis,their impact on the wider society is not discernable, for it is not explored;
hence,most commentators have focused on the patriarchal values espoused by Tyler,
interpreted
the fighting as a perpetuation of male authority, which is asserted
and

throughviolence and physicality, and hidden behind the fagadeof the white man as
victim. Thus, male masochisticenjoyment is disavowed,with critics such as Nicola
Rehling (2001) reading the pleasure in pain as merely a disguise to consolidate male
power. However. for the cinematic audience, we are fully exposed to the unsettling

imageof men enjoying being beatenwhere the suffering is not treated as a sign of
virility or victimhood, but as a meansof abandoningcontrol and finding release.Not
necessarilNchallenging patriarchy or capitalism, the play environment of the Fight

Clubsenablesa rethinking of the coding of masculinity.


-302-

that:
Huizinga
wrote
becomes
But in Fight Club, play also
corrupted.
immemorial
playbelong
the
sacred
to
does
not, of course,
-Commercialcompetition
destroy
the
Mayhem
Project
The
may
forms' (1970,226).
militaristic members of
US
have
the
only
Clubs
but
Fight
bar,
are
that
the
all
over
up
sprung
yuppie coffee
how
described
has
his
in
Whannel,
franchise.
Garry
forrn
of
sport,
study
of
another
maverickmasculineindividualism ... increasingly conflicts with the new corporate
in
is
it
(1999,262),
the
sports
extreme
many
of
resistance
evident
and
paternalism'
Club
Fight
the
Game
The
involvement.
Both
address
to
and
enthusiasts corporate
is
That
business.
big
drone-like
issuevia the numbing
play
existence of capitalistic

falsified by businessis especially evident in the latter. It is only after Jack has been
for
Fight
he
he
has
full
'corporate
terms
sponsorship'
pay, and
what
suspendedon
Club, that Tyler changes the nature of their activities. In the next scene, a Fight Club
issues
(including
Tyler
'homework
smashing cars and
assignments'
sessionends, and
demagnetizingrental videotapes) in an assault on what he believes to be harming

bombing
The
to
the
masculinity.
activities spiral outwards
of all major credit card
institutions, and only then does Jack realize that Tyler has gone too far. In other
31
Tyler
takes on the controlling, paternalistic attitude of a corporate leader.
words,

Thepoint then is this, Fight Club had to standoutside society, and be borderedby its
own regulations to secure a controlled enviromnent for play and the challenge to
masculinity. The film makes the distinction of the space quite apparent.

The US theatrical teaser and trailer made much of what effectively became a
mantrafor the film: 'The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight
Club.' That the command should feature so prominently in promotion
affirms the
centralityof rules to the narrative. After an initial fight betweenTyler and Jack, more

In a scenefilmed, but cut from the final release,Jack


returns home to explain his financial package,
but TIerwalks
away merely saying, 'We've gotta take Fight Club up a notch.'

-303 -

into
the
lot
they
move
in
all
bouts
in
the
join
until
car
them
men
gradually
more
and
tip
'on
been
the
had
basementof a bar. In voiceover, Jack announcesthat the concept
inauguration,
In
it
tone
just
I
of
Tyler
a
such
tongue.
name'.
a
gave
and
of everyone's

In
the
Club,
the
eight rules.
Tyler welcomes all the men to Fight
and proclaims
issues
the
Tyler
belts,
darkenedbasement,men remove
shoesand wedding rings as
following decree:
The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
The secondrule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.
is
fight
limp,
Someone
the
Club:
Fight
taps out;
Third rule of
yells stop, goes
over.
Fourth rule: Only two guys to a fight.
Fifth rule: One fight at a time, fellas.
Sixth rule: No shirts; no shoes.
Seventhrule: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
And the eighth and final rule: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you
haveto fight.
I list the rules in full to show how much screen time is given over to them. They
leader
Tyler
(even
to
the
though Jack's voiceover states
serve show
as
charismatic

they were 'the rules that he and I decided'), and to offer the fight space as a
controlled environment: it is a separatespace, falling outside the rules that govern the
restof society. Jack later draws attention to its separateness,stating, 'Fight Club only

existsin the hoursbetweenwhen Fight Club startsand when Fight Club ends.' When
meetinga fellow member outside thesetimes, he recognizesthe sharedbruises and
cuts with a knowing look, but that is all (figure 5.10). Like Bob Flanagan's BDSM

niarksand the scarsof the protagonists in Crash, these serve as memories, and as
with the victims of the artistic serial killer, they are marks of past control exercised
overthe body. The rules demarcatea controlled spaceof play, but control is
also
N-Italto the painful pleasures contained within.

-304-

lb

0*

Club
Fight
in
look
Knowing
5.10
Figure
of shared pain
Corresponding to Caillois's description of play, the Fight Club rules are 'precise,
Although
(1961,7).
they
and
purposeful,
are
arbitrary,
rules'
arbitrary, unexceptional
define a specifically erotic quality to the play. Robert Alan Brookey and Robert
Westerfelhaus (2002) have provided an excellent insight into the extra features
film,,
double
DVD
the
the
such as audio commentaries and
release of
containedon

32
bonusmaterial. They see the spectator of such material as an 'invested viewer'
(having an incentive to have their viewing experience directed to ensure value for
money), and the DVD package as a whole promoting a preferred reading via the
dissuades
They
"'extra
text"
the viewer
that
this
auteuristiccommentaries.
conclude
tIrom acknowledging the film's homoerotic elements as representing homosexual
experience'(2002,21). 1 note their comments because their work overlaps much of
my study. However, although eager to pursue the homosexual under/overtones, they
are reluctant to engage with the even more transparent aspect of BDSM sexual
interactions.
Brookey and Westerfelhaus rightly recognize how the sporting contest allows the
camerato linger over sweaty, taut male bodies in close physical contact with each

'I- Brookey
and Westerfelhaus base their study on the US release of the DVD, which contains extra
commentariesin comparison with the UK release.

-305-

'blatant
Bronski,
though
Michael
in
They
the
of
that,
too
words
note
other.
hidden
implications
of
the
have
does
exotic
homosexuality
mass appeal ...
not
2002,28).
Westerfelhaus
Brookey
(in
and
homosexualityhave huge salespotential'
the
but
is
of
even more so
As I have noted throughout my study, the same true
deduce,
findings,
they
From
body.
their
the
of
marking and controlling
back,
beaten
be
quite
then
homosocial
in
evoked and
'homoeroticism a
context can
For
(2002,29).
into
homosexuality'
it
literally in the caseof Fight Club, before slides
do
first
(2002,35),
Westerfelhaus
two
the
Brookey and
not refer to the secrecy
rules
homosexuality.
its
dares
but
'a
that
name':
not speak
relationship
of the sport,
'Someone
had
if
the
yells
to
However, they
next rule, namely
examine
moved on
BDSM
discovered
have
is
fight
that
limp,
they
the
taps out;
would
over',
stop, goes
is the sexual activity inscribed into the play. Consent is on the agenda (as in all play),
but like the safe words of a BDSM scene, contestants can tap out at anytime. It is not
is
into
It
is
beaten
beaten
back,
BDSM
is
homosexuality
the
the
that the
open.
rather
true that the rules of no shirt and the pairing of men evoke sex, but pain defines the
form of intimacy. And like BDSM scenes,voyeurism can be important ('One fight at
is
first
but
('If
this
time'),
a
your
night ... you
curiosity seekers are not welcome
haveto fight). The rules therefore set up a scenario within a BDSM context, and the
filming and voiceover reassert that it is not a sporting contest.
After the rules are proclaimed, two men fight. Shirtless, they drip with sweat and

blood,andJack looks on with a keen eye. As Brookey and Westerfelhausstate, 'The


tight concludes with the loser lying on the floor in a passive sexual position, a look
of ecstasyon his face' (2002,35) (figure 5.11). However, they make no mention of

thefact that he is the one that has called a halt to the grappling, his face is battered
aild bloody, and the elation derives not from sex, but the punishment. It is the
displayed.
is
aesthetic
that
of suffering
-306-

Figure 5.11 Ecstasy of suffering in Fight Club


his
like
there';
'You
words
Jack narrates,
you were
weren't alive anywhere
The
Breton's
Le
the
comments of extreme sports enthusiasts.
of
recording
match
for
both
is
activities use pain as a means of confirming
comparison not surprising,
being alive, and flirt with the danger of being out of control. In addition, in response
is
in
Gucci
Jack's
the
the
to
underwear advertisement what
man
question of whether
Now
is
like,
'Self-improvement
looks
Tyler
selfmasturbation.
replies:
a man
destruction

' Although unfinished, the implication that masochistic pleasure is


...

is
'Maybe
is
Tyler's
(In
the
the
to
novel,
sentence
selfevident.
central
schema
destructionis the answer' (Palahniuk 1997,49). ) Further, the scene cuts to the Fight
Club where an enraptured Jack watches a strutting Tyler after he has forced his
opponentto give in. In tum, Jack then has his face pounded into the floor before
submitting to his opponent. In voiceover, he attests, 'Fight Club wasn't about
winning or losing. It wasn't about words. The hysterical shouting was in tongues,
like at a Pentecostal church.... Afterwards, we all felt saved.' So just like extreme
sports,which have been described as 'not so much about winning, as putting on a
greatshow' (voiceover narrator in the television programme Xtremists, partl, 2003),
Fight Club is not about victory. You prove yourself (to
by
yourself)
enduring. The
pleasureof Fight Club is therefore not violence as such but suffering, a point

-307-

indicates
Deacy
Christopher
Christianity.
Pentecostal
by
the
to
reference
reinforced
'Jesus
includes
the
imagery,
comment
which
the novel's greaterstressingof religious
is
Christ
but
1997,70),
the
of
(Palahniuk
his
masochism
thing'
did it with
crucifixion
in
drawn
to
suffering.
quality
a
redemptive
suggest
on
still

33

Club
Fight
Rather than confirming traditional machismo and male power,
into
the
by
does
It
tapping
dominance
fluidity
so
submission.
and
of
a
articulates
it
find
that
I
BDSM.
in
therefore
surprising
and
sports
extreme
apparent
pleasures

Giroux could describe the film as having 'deeply conventional views of violence,
Giroux's
(2002,261).
the
violence
on
emphasis
masculinity'
and
relations,
gender

ignoresits function. His focus on sadismblinds him to the masochisticimpulse that


is
it
founding
his
By
(if
is equally prevalent
criticism on whether
not more so).
it
to
to
on
morally correct romanticize violence when so many people are subjected
Clubs
fact
Fight
ignores
he
the
that
the
the grounds of sex, colour, gender and class,
areabout willing participation not coercion.
It is crucial that we recognize the exhilaration and exquisite pain the narrative
film
for
be
in
Club.
Giroux
'a
Fight
the
the
to
clarion call
posits
available
calls
legitimation of dehumanizing fonns of violence as a source of pleasure and sociality'
(2002,271),

and therefore castigates all BDSMers as subhuman. That the

just
but
Fight
based
love,
Club
be
interactionsin
on
respect,
also
are
not
can
noted
from Jack'sreflection on eventsat the beginning of the film. He recounts, 'That old
saying, how you always hurt the one you love; well, it works both ways. ' The
founding principle of his relationship with Tyler is condensed into the one sentence:
a mutual desire premised on suffering.
The urge appearsto originate in an attempt to escapethe safety of society. Jack's

11Besides
33
this scene, we can also consider the resurrection context of Jack commenting, 'Every
eN,
ening, I died. And every evening, I was born again. '

-308-

job as a recall coordinator is about balancing the cost of withdrawing potentially


The
do
few
for
that
the
faulty automobiles, and paying compensation
go wrong.
horrified
The
is
passenger
the
airline
of
risk.
cost
of
measuring
also
measuring
he
if
his
listeningto Jack's explanation of
role asks there are many such accidents;
her
denied
had
that
believe.
'
Being
'You
to
the
oblivious
situation
wouldn't
replies,
depiction
its
in-flight
deconstructs
Tyler
Similarly,
the
of
safety
card
with
risk.
he
braced
for
impact.
both
They
calls
are
part of what
passive passengerscalmly

'The illusion of safety.' Unlike the illusion of danger in video games, modem life
junky,
illusion
Like
the
who
an adrenalin
of safety.
surroundsus with safety and
loss
Jack
Tyler
the
to
of
and
experience
enjoys enduring extreme sports,
wish
fear
it
is
for
But
the
that
them it has a supplementary quality that
unsafe.
control,
it
BDSM.
unites with
When Jack meets Tyler in a bar after his apartment has blown up, he talks for
hours but cannot bring himself to ask if he can stay at Tyler's home. In a flirtatious
manner, Tyler teases him: 'Three pitchers of beer and you still can't ask.' His
34
become
defined:
then
foreplay
'Cut
just
comments
the
more sexually
and
ask man. '
Tyler agreesto Jack staying, but he wants a favour in return: Jack to hit him
as hard
as he can. Jack is initially reticent, but Tyler argues, 'How much do you know about
yourself if you've never been in a fight? I don't wanna die without any scars.' Thus,

we return to the now familiar theme of marking the body: scars as memory and
testament
life.
It is the sign of suffering enduredand overcome.
of
Finally, Jack awkwardly punches Tyler in the ear:
not the spectacular Hollywood

smack,but a meaty thump that enouncesthe flesh of the body. Repentant


and
3

34Thesexualtone had
already been establishedin the sceneby Tyler discussing a woman severing a
man'spenis,but the flirtation had actually begun much earlier. When Jack telephonesTyler, Tyler
doesnot answerthe
call, but calls back and announces,I star 69'ed you. ' The phraserefers to the call
backcodeequivalentto 1471
in
used the United Kingdom, but the comment has a pointed link to oral
sex.Noneof thesereferencesappear in the novel.

-309-

Tyler
a
slams
'No,
is
he
has
it
Jack
that
'fucked
and
told,
believing
was perfect',
up',
'That
but
is,
He
is
Jack
into
Jack's
Tyler
says,
that
okay.
checks
stomach.
punch
Jack
feel
begun
have
both
but
'
hurts.
Tyler
to
eagerly
euphoric.
agrees,
really
I
hit
'No,
Tyler
me.
demands,'Hit me again.' Not wishing to miss out,
you
replies,
What is therefore quite apparentis that the violence is founded on masochism not
begin
fighting
be
hit.
hit,
but
They
desire
as
to
the
afterwards,
and
again,
not
sadism:
if in post-coital mode, lie back, a cigarette in Tyler's hand, and Jack says, 'We
bravado
is
for
blows
desire
(figure
5.12).
The
do
the
not
should this again sometime'
in
in
have
Raging
Bull;
Jack
Tyler
Motta
La
Jake
pain:
sourced a pleasure
and
of
high,
have
found,
BDSM
as
masochists
or the euphoric state of
perhapsan endorphin
is
it
hardship
Or
torment
that
to.
a
and
extreme sports players attest
maybe
enduring
but
film
fictitious
is
is
the
that
their
state;
unequivocal
pleasure present.
purely
That such a sensation is grounded in the real and is evidently felt as joyous
it
describe
Giroux
it
that
makes peculiar
should
as 'pain parading as pleasure' (2002,
273). A preceding comment by Giroux illuminates his position. He describes the
actions as 'senseless brutality'

(Giroux 2002,272),

thus exposing his lack of

receptivenessto masochistic pleasure. He is not alone though. In Fincher's DVD

commentaryto the scene,although he admits to 'undercurrentsof sadomasochism'.


heclaims that in Jack and Tyler's case it comes from an 'innocent place' (in Brookey
and Westerfelhaus 2002,34). Brookey and Westerfelhaus interpret the comment as
part of the overarching denial of homosexuality in the commentary (the innocence

deniesit is sexual), which legitimates the enjoyment of hornoeroticism for the


imagined target audience of the male heterosexual viewer. A similar reading
of
denial is obviously applicable to
an interpretation that focuses on BDSM rather than

homosexuality.As
in
Chapter
2, the direct addressingof BDSM is usually
we saw
in films, with Hollywood preferring insteadto use it as titillation, but
Ivoidecl
mask it
-310-

Figure 5.12 Post-fight/coital relaxation in Fight Club

it
Club
Fight
That
that
is
transparent
centra,
is
masochism
male
makes
via sadism.
film
The
by
disavowed
treads
therefore
the
new
contest.
sporting
partially
only
being
by
filmmakers
too
but
explicit.
an
audience
of
alienating
are
wary
ground,
Perhapsthis explains Fincher's comment of 'I think it's beyond sexuality' (in Taubin
1999b),and stating that 'The way the narrator [Jack] looks up to Tyler and wants to
do
have
his
doesn't
him
to
to
to
with
anything
seem me
attention
please
and get all of
sex' (in Taubin 1999b).
Although commenting in relation to the charge of homoeroticism, the point
equally applies to BDSM. I therefore believe Fincher (and the film too) is trying to
draw on the concepts of control/out of control in extreme sports as much as on
sexuality. Indeed, a further statement indicates that he is unaware of some key
distinctions.
Do I care if people who are consenting adults have this Fight Club? I have
no problem with that. I'm no sadomasochist, but it seems more responsible
than bottling up all this rage about how unfulfilling their lives are. (In Taubin
1999b)
Both Fight Club and BDSM are heavily invested in dominance
and submission,

Ieelingout of control and being controlled, but they


are not the same.Further, BDSM
is certainly not about bottling up rage but sharing pleasure. That Fincher collapses

-311 -

trends
into
homoeroticism,
social
of
aware
BDSM
suggestsa man
anger, as well as
himself
distanced
he
is
It
that
but not in tune with their significance.
perhapstelling
Edward
by
'I
Club,
Fight
Crash
from the comparisonsof
saying, understand
and
Norton's character so well that I think what he's thinking is what everybody's
1999b).
Taubin
leg
brace'
(in
fuck
like
It's
to
somebody's
wanting
thinking.
not
Whilst Fincher addresses a general perception of BDSM and extreme sports,

Cronenbergdistorts the reality of BDSM and body modification, but addressestheir


by
both
films
both
That
they
going
challenge
shows
were controversial
essence.
beyondthe middle ground of mainstreamcinema in their depiction of the controlled
body, but their approachesare quite dissimilar.
Fincher's uncertainty in respect of the topic is evident in the scene when the
Mafioso bar owner, Lou (Peter lacangelo), discovers Tyler running the Fight Club
from his basement. Languidly posed, Tyler rejects Lou's demands that they leave
jab
leaves
him
kneeling
he
join
Tyler's
A
to
them.
on the
short
stomach
and suggests
floor. Instead of fighting back, Tyler merely rebuffs Lou's interrogations of whether
he understands he has to leave with conunents like 'Still not getting it', which
instantly prompt more punishment.

At first Lou is bemused but unperturbed by his confrontation with male


masochism.Tyler beckons Lou on to punch him some more with the phrase, 'That's
right Lou. Get it out. ' The aggressor is unsettled but continues his vicious beating
until Tyler begins to laugh manically and cries, 'Oh, yeah! ' after a heavy blow. The
passivity deflates Lou's aggression. Tyler proves his masculinity by enduring the
beatingnot by successfully fighting back. The scene begins to imply that passivity
canbe a weapon. But the stance is largely undermined. Tyler pounces and begins to

spit blood from his deeply savagedmouth onto Lou's face. In a crazed outburst, he
cries.*You don't know where I've been,Lou. ' The implication. in the confines of the
-312-

in
Tyler
AIDS.
have
persists
Tyler
is
Club,
that
might
dark, sweaty, all-male Fight
Club.
Fight
for
basement
the
to
Lou
agreesthey may continue use
tormentinguntil
but
homophobic,
certainly
insightful
What startedas an
premise ends in potentially
film
in
greater
the
Although
this
puts
scene
unchallenging, male aggression.
35

lack
to
a
does,
Fincher
appears
the
still
than
novel
control
up
giving
on
emphasis
disarm.
for
to
conviction masochism'spotential
like
Helped
is
instantly
a
up
Confusingly, the explicit masochism
returned to.

homework
Tyler
5.13),
him
(figure
the
disciples
sets
Christ figure, his
all around
the
losing.
The
fight
showing
montage
and
a
stranger,
with
a
of
picking
assignment

film,
therefore
is
the
fights
and
the
whole
of
most whimsical sequence
attempted
is
is
What
that
the
clear
potential exploration of masochistic pursuits.
againweakens
36
Fight Club is not fully committed to a masochism of fighting. It does, however,
it
speaks of culturally recognizable masochistic
achieve a greater clarity when
pursuits.

It is logical that Crash should have been contrastedwith Fight Club; Jack's job
just
his
asa recall coordinatornecessitates attendingand photographingcrashedcars,
film.
in
former
Taking
Vaughan
had
done
the
on the properties of the staged car
as

deemed
The
film
is
'Very
in
Club
Crash,
Fight
smashes
modem art'.
also
of
a wreck
features a car crash staged by Tyler for Jack to experience the relinquishing of
control. Leaving Fight Club, Tyler and Jack drive off with two other members of
Project Mayhem. Tyler steers the car towards oncoming traffic, and challenges the
Lou's characterdoesnot exist in the novel, but the scenereworks a similar confrontation between
TIerandthe projectionist union president. Threatenedwith redundancy, Tyler blackmails the
presidentover pornographic images Tyler has spliced into the films he has shown to unsuspecting
The presidentpunchesand kicks Tyler, who does not fight back, but just laughs. But his
audiences.
passivityis becausehe has already won: 'Crack my ribs, but if you miss one week's pay, I go
public.... I am still your responsibility' (Palahniuk 1997,115).
Againthough,
for
further
be
Fincher
t)
than the novel in exploring the
going
acknowledged
I
should
personalpositivesof masochism. When, in the novel, the men are assignedto pick a fight with a
strangerand lose, the purpose is to make the winner feel better: 'The idea is to take some Joe on the
streetNN-ho's
never been in a fight and recruit him. Let him experiencewinning for the first time in his
life'(Palahniuk 1997,119-120).

-313-

Club
in
Fight
his
disciples
Tyler
Durden
Christ-like
5.13
Figure
and
Jack
died
if
done
have
they
to
they
nowIs
to
wish
would
what
say
car occupants
died
if
he
like
feel
he
him
but
Tyler
know,,
now.
doesnot
would
what
persists, asking
Jackresponds,'I wouldn't feel anything good about my life. Is that what you want to
hear me say?' Again insufficient for Tyler, he continues playing 'chicken' with the
by
Jack
Tyler
he
Jack
to
the
convince
traffic, and
attempts
wheel.
wrestle with
and
Stop
It's
isn't
bottom
'Hitting
not a goddamn seminar.
a weekend-retreat.
explaining,
trying to control everything, and just let go! )
The point Tyler is making is the need to go through with it to feel it. Jack
from
his
hand
the steering wheel, and the pair put on their seatbelts and sit
removes
back anticipating the impact; they await their fates just as the passive passengerson
the in-flight safety card had. After the crash, Tyler drags Jack from the wreck, and in

his voiceover,Jack states,I'd never been in a car accident. This must've been what
all those people felt like before I filed them as statistics in my reports. ' Thus, Jack
hasfinally experienced what he had only talked about. The event gives meaning to
partof the life he had lived to that point. More than this, it is an emotional high, or as
Tyler describes it, 'We've just had a near-life experience.' As with the potentially
tIatal dangersof extreme sports, a moment like the car crash makes you realize you
arealiNe.(Tyler makes a similar point when he threatens to kill a convenience store
-314-

be
the
'Tomoffow
Jack
Tyler
will
he
that,
back
tells
to
unless
college.
goes
worker,
being
he
has
because
life'
day
beautiful
K.
Hessel's
Raymond
gun
a
survived
of
most
life',
'real
in
and
his
head.
is
to
)37
It
tangibly
to
contrast
real moment
a
put
is
fall
belief
'Free
more
that:
the
much
to
enthusiast's
sports
extreme
corresponds
in
Crash,
in
2000,3).
Just
life'
Le
Breton
(Lyng
and
pain
than
as
everyday
real
being
in
Tyler's
(or
to
emotionally
words) attest your
masochism self-destruction
alive.
A more fundamentalrelationship between Crash and Fight Club is the shared
Jack
for
body
the
the
sensualqualities of
modification as control.
scar, and
concern
describesMarla as being like a 'scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if
for
it;
but
Like
Caillois's
tonguing
you can't'.
similar analogy
only you could stop
the masochistic play instinct, it speaks the almost unspeakable: the desire to inflict
4pain' on yourself for pleasure. The fundamental precept, however, is the ability to
control the sensation: to stop if it becomes too intense.
I mentioned earlier Tyler's decision not to die without scars, and he sensuously
imposes his will on Jack. Whilst making soap from human liposuction fat (a
referenceto 'conventional' body modification), Tyler licks his lips before taking

Jack'shandand kissing it. Tyler pours lye onto the moist area,and tells Jack that the
chemicalreaction will scar: the site of affection will be pennanently etched. As the
chemicalbum takeshold, Jack speaksvia voiceover: 'Guided meditation worked for
cancer,it could work for this. ' We see a lush green forest as Jack imagines away the

hurt,but we cut back to Tyler shaking Jack's hand


and demanding, 'Stay with the
pain, don't shut this out.' Ordered to look at his hand, we witness the chemical
bubblingthe flesh into a scar.
37HenryA Giroux
(2002,269) commentsthat the scenefails to addressthe issue of why Raymond
hasdroppedout
of college, namely social depravation and inequality. However, the purpose of the
sceneis to shoNN,
Tyler's logic, henceJack's voiceover comment, 'He had a plan, and it
started to
rnakesensein a TvIer sort of way. '

-315 -

flarnes;
into
bursts
it
but
forest,
Again Jack tries to think of the green
is
is
insisting,
'This
by
this
denial
your
Tyler
the
pain,
your
prevents
simultaneously,

dead
'deal
hand',
instructs
Jack
the
those
this
people
buming
way
with
not to
and
disavow
dead)
deemed
dying
(and
Succinctly,
do'.
those that are
are
emotionally
Jack
live
life)
(and
their
truly
that
shakes
those
pain.
experience
are alive
their pain;
from the intensity of the burning, and his alter ego grips his wrist to prevent him
is
but
there
Tyler
the
a
that
neutralize
suffering,
vinegar
will
explains
escaping.
know,
have
have
it:
First
being
'First,
to
to
to
not
you
you
give up.
allowed
condition
fear, know, that someday you're gonna die. ' Protesting that Tyler does not know how
it feels, Jack is shown Tyler's identically, lip-burned hand as he proclaims, 'It's only
In
free
lost
do
(figure
5.14)
that
to
an
anything'
everything
we're
after we've
is
is
fate.
being
he
be
free
by
his
The
Jack
told
scar
can
accepting
existentialist way,
differently.
thinking
a symbol of
The same applies to the marks from Fight Club. Stared at when at work, Jack had
following
from
in
bruises
fighting.
'Yes,
Yes, I'm
the
these
spoken
voiceover:
are
comfortablewith that. I am enlightened. ' The philosophy is that by accepting pain as
pain, it can potentially be enjoyed, and certainly not suffered. What is more, as in

('rash, the cuts, bruises and scars sported by Jack in Fight Club announcethe past
pleasures,but convention reads them as suffering. That Jack has triumphed over the
pain of the lye is confirmed every time he sees his hand. Conventions though, mean
that the damaged flesh is part of the grammar of intolerable pain not eroticized
pleasure.Nicola Rehling makes the same mistake when she charges Fight Club with
'displacing homoerotically

charged moments, such as Tyler's

kiss, onto a

desexualised
administering of pain' (2001). Such marks to the body are far from
desexualized
in
when seen the context of BDSM. The wounds from Fight Club are
alsomorethan body damage.Sporting injuries may usually be shown off with pride,
-316-

Figure 5.14 Kiss-shaped scar of shared affection and suffering in Fight Club

but not for being glorious agony. The marks of Fight Club testify to its altemative
leaving
is
It
that
to
of sport.
a sensual exploration of pain via a celebration of
status
behind safety and control, and experiencing a visceral extreme denied beyond the
haven
Club.
Fight
of
ruled safe
Even the safety of conventional beauty is abandoned. Although ironic that Brad
Pitt, the archetypal white male Adonis, should reject the image of the sculptured
male torso in the Gucci ad, Fight Club does not depict the "'sexercise" and
6&

38

11) 4)

exersex of the body beautiful (Featherstone 1982,182) .

Indeed, we can repeat

Amy Taubin's comment (I 999a, 17), 'Pitt


has never been as exquisite as he is
...
with a broken nose and blood streaming down his cut body', and a still from the film
confinns this (figure 5.15). However, Jack offers a more radical challenge. He talks
of the assof a raw recruit going from 'cookie dough' to being 'carved out of wood',
but Fight Club is about testing the body's limits not toning it. The repeated
ordeals,
not unrelated to the punishment of Nicholas in The Game, increasingly damage the

body.Jack's delicate frame becomesmore muscularly defined, but his teeth


work
loose,his hair is pulled out, his
his
face
is
eyes swell, and
constantly bruised (figure
5.16).
DavidFincher calls Brad Pitt 'the ultimate guy' (in Brooks 2002,17).

-317-

Fight
in
Durden
Tyler
body
battered
the
Aestheticized
of
Figure 5.15
suffering Club

Figure 5.16 Is that what a man looks like? The increasingly damaged body of
Jack in Fight Club
Unlike the body modification

in
Crash,
or the aestheticized
of scarring

disfigurement
beauty
is
dichotomy
Helena,
Boxing
the
and
of
amputations of
Project
Mayhem
blond
hugs
When
Tyler
a
successful
maintained.
recruit after
a
intolerable
In
body
fit
issue
tension.
the
the
operation,
reaches an
a
aestheticized
of
In
Club.
Fight
beats
Jack
the
of jealousy,
slow motion, the camera
man at
savagely
circles the pair, and shot-reverse-shot point-of-view angles show the contenders as

the noise of the crowd echoes and distorts. Sporadically, the sound of each blow
thudslouder than the ambient cries. The crowd's stunned silent staresenhancethe
inipressionthat this is the most sadistic moment of the film. Questioned by Tyler
-318-

'
beautiful.
destroying
like
felt
'I
his
Jack
something
actions,
responds,
about
lack
in
Club
Fight
fights
the
of
through
The whole sceneis at odds with the other
is
a
It
blows.
the
beyond
that
replicates
the
scene
notable
opening
masochism
(Cathy
Vickie
his
jealous
is
Motta
La.
Bull
Raging
that
from
partner,
where
passage

A
is
handsome.
Mahon),
(Kevin
Tony
Janiro
his
slowMoriarty), thinks
opponent,
bursting
Janiro's
fight
La
Motta
during
the
when
nose
shows
close-up
motion
'He
him.
Afterwards,
no
pretty
ain't
at
remarks,
a
man
ringside
pounding
excessively
in
'As
Club,
in
Fight
is
Taubin
Amy
Although
'
to
that
note
pertinent
more.

Scorsese'sfilms, the male body is ferninised through masochism' (1999a, 17), the
La
divergence.
in
these
two
themes
respect of
scenesmarks a point of
overlapping of
Motta becomesincreasingly controlling of Vickie, but the next scene in Fight Club is
the one when Jack lets go of the steering wheel and renounces control. In the
has
in
The
Game,
leaves
him,
like
Nicholas
Tyler
Jack,
and
even
subsequentscene,
be