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Sunday, 18 September 2011

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Four Self-Interviews about Cinema:

The short films of Norman Reedus

A Filthy Little Fruit (2006)

(though not necessary to this self-interview, the film being discussed here, as well as the others being discussed in this series, can be purchased as digital downloads from www.bigbaldhead.com)

Concrete: That this film is actually linear, literally linear-despite what could be easy misinterpretation-and that it works without large tricks or unneeded superficial tweak was great for me, it was like watching a real, top shelf Twilight Zone episode, golden era, Twilight Zone before what that means got skewed to mean overt, superfluous "twists"-I mean those Serling, Matheson episodes that were powerful simply for being so plain, that let the subtextual content, rather than the surface, be what really defined them.

Abstract: What intrigues me the most about this film-yes, I agree with you totally there, not brushing you off-is, as you say, the flat, low key way it is presented. Especially as the central conflict, the "story of it," is one that is delicate and ethereal, easy to overlook-again, as you say-that it maintains so muted, unadorned and, aloof a presentation drives the impact. And this impact, at least to me, is interesting because, on the one hand, there is no obvious presentation of "purpose" or even of "conclusion," in the film, yet precisely this "seemingly omitted aspect"-in thinking back over the film-reveals the violence (not physical, but psychic) that took place.

Identity

C: Can it be said to be "violent"-I know you mean this because the "one identity" usurps the "body," but since it's all one person, do you really think it's an expression of (even psychic) violence, or just an expression of a change-in-character, a film exploring a moment where someone decides (perhaps unconsciously) to make a change in their life, that the "usurping" aspect of things is kind of incidental or, better to say, just presented to give the film an entertaining storyline, just a track to move along?

A: It's a good point-or a good question, I guess. Yeah. But I think there is a violence suggested in the identity shift, which I will explain in a moment. First-because I do like what you say-I want to explore that I think the film is an expression of the "necessarily violent nature" of the unconscious in expressing itself, the intrinsic "violence" of artistic expression, artistic identity.

C: Let's do that second rather than first, maybe? What indicates a more forceful, violent aspect to you-let's do that, first.

A: Okay. The initial dialogue that opens the film (or monologue, if you'd like, because technically the Apple says nothing, the man just reacts to "suggested dialogue from the apple") between the Comedian Identity and the Apple is filled with frustration, a kind of lecherousness, and a clear angst, dissatisfaction. The Comedian doesn't understand why the Apple (here proxy for the Lawyer Identity, which will appear later) won't "do as he says" why there is "something else it wants"-money, girls, etc. all of which baffles the Comedian, it seems inappropriate, absurd even, for the Apple to desire "things." Of course, this translates to the Comedian (or artist/unconscious identity) not understanding the yearning toward creature comforts (or even excesses) the Lawyer (or practical/conscious identity) comes to illustrate. Then, we have the scene of Comedian on stage, the Apple remaining mute, not allowing a dialogue and so not allowing comedian to be voiced, expressed-indeed by its very silence diminishing Comedian to the point of non-existence (a comedian, after all, who cannot even fully articulate a performance, a single wisecrack, is "no comedian").

Comedian

C: But it's Lawyer who wakes up screaming, would you say, from the dream that he "was the comedian"?

A: I would say. And in that lies the violence-this anguished, genuinely panic in which Lawyer wakes is actually indicative of a repulsion toward the idea of "being" or "becoming" Comedian. That is, the practical/conscious personality is terrified that the artistic/unconscious could actually get the upper hand, could, eventually, usurp him.

C: And so "violent", I see. Okay. But Lawyer is the Actual Man, as far as a concrete, literal reading of the film-in-sequence. That is, Lawyer is a man who has lived a kind of practical, status quo life, been afforded certain comforts he at once wishes to retain but also wishes to relinquish, or at least to put in jeopardy by allowing the artistic to "take over the actual, waking body".

A: Yes-and that was very good, good for you, there, I'm always so proud when you talk like that. The film, to me, sequentially, is a rendering of the unconscious (Comedian) and the conscious (Lawyer) more and more melding into each other until Comedian (unconscious) comes into possession of, as you say, the "Waking Body". Most pointedly, there is the sequence (inside a dream, and so technically Comedian speaking) of the man on the therapist's couch, the therapist questioning directly the notion of the "identity of the Apple as it appeared in the dream," asking the man (as patient) to consider what the Apple might be, what it might indicate-it's important that while the response to this questioning is very much born of the Lawyer (Conscious) aspect of our man-he says, "It's just an apple, doc"-that in the same moment he leans up to aggressively deliver this statement he discovers the therapist is inhuman, a baboon/insect thing, and this sight again leads to waking, startled even more aggressively than before.

C: In the dream, for a moment, Lawyer has control (outside of his waking domain), and uses this control to dismiss the notion of "analysis of the Apple" and so, really, is rejecting "self-analysis" analysis that would indicate there can be more than one aspect to things-but even as Lawyer asserts this control, the dream changes context, a reassertion of Comedian (unconscious), a return to the same struggle as Comedian wanting the Apple to talk, on stage, the Apple remaining mute. I see that, I see what you mean-because initially while on the therapist couch, the man speaks in terms of being a Comedian, actually giving voice to the conscious minds' fears of what fate would lie in store if the artistic/unconscious mind took over-he says, "No one dies like stand-up comics die," a fear of something singularly awful awaiting if him if aspects of control are relinquished.

A: And later, in the direct dialogue between Lawyer and Comedian, remember how shocked, mortified Lawyer is when Comedian offers to tell him how he's going to die-"I'm going to die?" he says, in horror, as though it isn't possible, as though the admission of this inevitability means it will immediately happen, and so devalue, make meaningless all that conscious consideration and desire for control tries to maintain. Comedian is very at ease with death and with all possibility and inevitability-such as the notions of "having kids" of "suffering some tragedies" etc.-the unconscious is the "un-agitated", the "comfortable-with-anything." almost to the point of being null.

Struggle

C: I was so with you until that last thing-"comfortable-with-anything almost to the point of being null" means what, exactly?

A: The unconscious only has the struggle of gaining expression "on its mind"-as long as it can use the Body to speak, as long as it can express itself, nothing else is of concern-while the conscious, in possession of the Body, has umpteen concerns, nuances, details, things to keep in check, not the least of which is resisting the more unconscious elements of itself.

So, the calm Comedian presents is not a "wise calm" it is an "un-caring calm"-Comedian could burn the life of Lawyer to the ground, wind up starving in a cold water flat and it would still be an acceptable, almost romantic, expression of unconscious/artistic desire.

Which, in turn, is why Lawyer is so agitated at every suggestion, even those that are obvious-Comedian nonchalantly saying "We all die" is not news to Lawyer, Lawyer just consciously notes the fact of it, the implication, and so frets. Comedian (unconscious) accepts anything and everything, to the point that "continuation of self" is kind of irrelevant.

C: This is why, earlier, I questioned your use of the term "violence." Lawyer is technically more of the usurper-he is the little element, the tiny consciousness that has taken control. In a technical sense, any individual is far more unconscious than conscious and there is a kind of absurdly inverted balance of power in "consciousness making decisions", keeping things in check, in this smallest part of anyone being the controlling part. Virulent, almost, in that consciousness has to constantly look outward for assurance of itself. We can note in the film that when Lawyer wakes in a panic (before we know he is a lawyer, when we only have any reason to think of him as a comedian) he stumbles into the hall and is relieved to see his law degree framed on the wall-"Thank God" he says, this outside evidence reassuring him that he is "himself". But I would say this is the act of a pretender, a thief, who "feels inside that he is Comedian" but out of fright, weakness, vanity, etc. puts on disguises and then always has to check they are still in place.

A: You see Comedian as "retaking what was his" a kind of "flushing out the infection of Lawyer, of consciousness."

C: I do.

A: That's wonderful, I love that. I wish I'd said that actually. Instead, I'll jump off from there to where I was heading, earlier. The film artfully posits audience/viewer as Comedian (and to my way of thinking Interloper, though you did just make a stellar point there, I'll have to consider that while I go on) in that it takes until three-quarters of the way through the film to cement the idea that the "physical body is controlled by Lawyer" (that this man is "really a lawyer" and "not a comedian" to put it more flatly) and so by the time the film concludes and Comedian does, indeed, take active, physical control of the body, the audience/viewer has been placed in the position to think "we have won," "Comedian has won" in that Comedian has gotten rid of Lawyer. Which is what you say-that Lawyer was infection, that consciousness is virulent.

Artistic

C: I think we're largely on the same page, and since you're staring at your shoes a moment, I'll just press on. I think the film isn't so violent (even psychically) as you initially posited it to be. I think it more celebratory of the eventual "triumph" in any man of the unconscious/artistic. There is the scene-ostensibly inside a dream, but by this time in the film the distinction has been all but eradicated-of Comedian going up to a receptionist desk and saying "I've been in show business, but I think my real calling is to be a Temp"-which is not only very funny, but an articulate, wonderful inversion of the way such a conversation is "supposed to go"-someone is supposed to "come to the realization that they are an artist" and shed their "day job definition," so to witness the artist saying "I've realized my true calling is to be a non-artist" is actually a subtle, clean statement of the main thrust of the film. That is: It is natural, appropriate, for the unconscious to shed the conscious, expectorate it, but it is horror and absurdity for the conscious to gain control.

A: In this film though, we watch (if we take it your way) unconsciousness, the "largest part of us" bully out a small aspect, consciousness. There is a reason Lawyer is terrified, feels the walls closing in, feels the sting of absolute mortality-think of that, the conscious part (even you say the unconscious does not care, simply "is") the "knowing" part, the "aware and decisive" part of you realizes it is vanishing, being stripped away, but has to face the fact that it's "physicality" will go on. Unconscious, as wonderful as it is, is uncaring and devoid of dimension. It is the Consciousness where personality resides-choice, fret, struggle. To allow the unconscious absolute dominion is to allow the death of personality and, in fact, the death of identity. The small flame-Lawyer-is what defines this man, but to take what you say, decisions (and so the man he has forcefully, willfully made himself) are to swept aside and some "undecided version" based on no precedent, and not even concerned with continued survival, should be allowed the reigns of Identity-hardly a triumph to proceed without direction, drive, even if it means proceeding without fear.

C: Mmn. You mean that "being an artist" isn't a choice, it's born of unconscious association, but being a practical individual is choice? Choice defines, even if it brings with it consequence, trepidation?

A: The film, I think, is an expression of the necessity of balance. When we consider that Comedian is a kind of wraith, just a dull assertion, nothing that (in this particular case, in this particular film) seems to contain any passion, then the balance that has already been struck-Lawyer is "in control" and Comedian is "a nagging little, unfilled desire"-is appropriate, is the way it should be.

C: I do see that. So that's why you said "violent".

A: Oh good, I would have forgotten to mention how this reproves my point about that-yes, that is why I said "violent". As banal as it might be, the unconscious needs to stay fettered, needs to exist as "internalized angst." You even bring up the absurdity of Comedian saying he thinks he was meant to be a Temp, but I think in this scene we have admission of the propriety of "how things are"-a Real Person should be in the position to say "there is some unrealized part of myself" but if the Equation of Identity is that a person is "99% realized" (the unconscious in control) then the notion of fulfillment, of desire-toward-completion (or even toward self-contemplation) is unlikely. As Comedian says in the dialogue with Lawyer "I am who you were before you were born, who you will be after you die"-the unconscious is undifferentiated, is the void from which consciousness is born and the void to which consciousness returns. It is violent and I might in my passion go so far as to say, deplorable to suggest that the unconscious (which is eternal) should also have controlling dominion over the brief, mortal life of the conscious.

C: You're not going to get me to clap, if that's what you're trying to do.

A: But I have gotten you to agree, I'll settle for that-I can tell just looking at you that you do.

C: I don't know that you've gotten me to anything, but I see a lot in the film that touches on what you say. Yes, that last moment, Comedian claiming ownership of the dream-"This isn't your dream, it's mine now, as soon as I eat this Apple"-and then the camera following Comedian in to the bathroom, to the sink, and that dull, empty, emotionless gesture of Comedian beginning to run a toothbrush in his mouth-that moment of nothing-and then the blankness in the expression looking out of the mirror is kind of disquieting. And I admit, if the attributes you asserted (and I don't disagree with) define the unconscious-calm, unaffected, at-ease-with-anything-at-all, desireless, passionless-were to become the "total, physical man" it would be a horror. That is kind of gutting.

A: I think where you go sideways is in thinking that simply because an individual is "more unconscious than conscious" it is the same as saying "we ought to be unconscious." We are nothing if not for our consciousness, and even if it does make us mewling little cowards, even if we're afraid of our shadows, well, at least we're something. Really, when you assert unconsciousness as the "appropriate identity", all you're suggesting is that "majority rules," when nothing should be further from the truth.

C: So, let me understand-you think the film is downer because somebody decides to be an artist?

A: Ha. Yeah, I suppose. Or if not a downer, at least a horror-definitely a horror. The the Artistic Man, the man who allows more the unconscious aspects of himself to be his definition, there's always something frightening and destructive about that, when not kept in check. You really want your son to be Rimbaud? To be...I don't know...Sid Vicious or Darby Crash? No. You want them to be Godard, Bob Dylan, Duras-brilliant but aware enough to find meaning.

C: And barring that, I suppose you want them to be a clerk at REI or a wallpaper salesman?

A: That's a stretch. The man in the film is a Lawyer, not a bartender or some chump humping a retail gig-are you devaluing the study, refinement, and practice Law? Law, that which allows us civilization-"Reason devoid of Passion"

C: You're quoting Legally Blonde at me?

A: Har har. I'm just pointing out that it isn't "Artist" or "Shoe Clerk" it's Control or Not, Meaning or Lack.

C: Artist or Lawyer-well fine, why is either a horror?

A: Well, not everyone is an artist, which I think is a truth, something to be celebrated. Unconsciousness is not Art-unconsciousness filtered through consciousness is Art and this is what is destroyed in the film, what we witness and (as I was saying) by trick of being first imprinted on as "Comedian" celebrate the destruction of-the death of that filter which allows a void to rush out. The film is about the death of potential identity and the birth of nothing.

C: The film's about that? Or your sidestepping and free-associations are about that?

A: If you can explain the difference, I'll be glad to answer you.

Pablo D'Stair is a writer of novels, shorts stories, essays, and also conducts the book-length dialogue series Predicate. He welcomes any and all comments at [email protected]

 

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