Monday, January 24, 2011



Before discussing the film proper (wherein there will be no SPOILER WARNINGS), I'll explain a little about the motif I've assigned to this film, "delirious dreams and fallacious figments," in contrast to a related motif discussed in the HAMLET (1948) essay, that of "phantasmal figurations."

In the HAMLET essay I stated the latter motif included all works in which the nature of a narrative phenomenon seemed rooted in some manner of illusion, no matter whether the source of the phenomenon was a human being or some unverifable outside agency: hence "phantasmal." In direct contrast, the motif of "delirious dreams and fallacious figments" is clearly a delusory phenomenon that in no way poses any threat to the cognitive rational order. This motif includes depictions of the world of dreams, aberrant fantasies, fantastic sequences related by a real person (PRINCESS BRIDE), and short breaks from a narrative's diegetic reality. (The non-diegetic apperance of Marshall McLuhan in Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL would be an example of the latter.) BLACK SWAN clearly delineates the second of these subtypes, the "aberrant fantasy," in that the story depicts the mental breakdown of a ballerina with something of a Jekyll/Hyde personality.

Obviously, in such a story the Campbellian function must be a psychological one, though one might argue that director Darren Aronofsky and his writers (all of whom are male) have added a sociological element insofar as they have refashioned Tchaikovsky's SWAN LAKE into a post-feminist text.

In the original ballet, tragic female protagonist Odilie is twice undone by the actions of men. The ballet begins with Odilie enduring a curse placed upon her by an evil male sorcerer, whose motive for doing so is never stated. The curse causes her to become a female swan by day, allowing her to revert to human form only by night. She can undo the curse if a man pledges eternal love and loyalty to her (thus putting her once more in the power of male agency). In human form Odilie does meet and fall in love with a prince, and deliverance seems possible. But the sorcerer works against her. He magically disguises his daughter to look like Odilie, and the prince professes his love to the wrong woman. This being a fairy-tale, the words once spoken can't be taken back, and Odilie kills herself rather than live on as a half-swan.

In the narrative of BLACK SWAN, there are counterparts for Odilie, the sorcerer's daughter, and a very loose counterpart to the sorcerer-- all of whom are female characters-- but there is no prince. The only significant male character is Thomas Leroy, the director of a new version of SWAN LAKE, who is loosely responsible for the problem set for protagonist Nina. Leroy wants the same ballerina to dance both the virginal, innocent Odilie, a "White Swan," and the seductive sorcerer's daughter, who, in a departure from Tchaikovsky, is costumed as a "Black Swan." But though Leroy places a heavy demand on Nina by demanding that she portray two widely divergent characters, he isn't responsible for her fragile mental state.

In BLACK SWAN, the "sorcerer" responsible for Nina's "curse" is Erica, a stage mother who has essentially projected upon Nina the responsibility of redeeming Erica's own aborted ballet career. As a result of the mother's domination, Nina identifies with the put-upon White Swan but finds it hard to act the persona of the Black Swan. Her mental turmoil is then aggravated by the presence of rival dancer Lily, who in keeping with her Lilith-like name has the seductive and freewheeling characteristics Nina desperately needs. The mental pressure manifests in increasing hallucinations and culminates in Nina's attempt at murder.

This is not to say that men get totally off the hook. A subplot regarding an older dancer, discarded by Leroy because she's grown too old, and whose romantic place Leroy might like Nina to assume, indicts the male of the species on the customary charge of tomcattery. But clearly Nina's psychological breakdown stems from her inability to throw off her mother's domination and to formulate her own distinct identity. Nina's doomed attempt to assimilate Lily's persona, ranging from an imagined sex-scene with her to an imagined murder-attempt, merely underscore that it's too late for this fragile bird to change her feathers.

Many horror-thrillers deal with protagonists who become dangerous to society because of their delirious states, notably Polanski's REPULSION, but Nina is never seen as a danger to anyone but herself, thus putting SWAN closer to the territory of Peter Shaffer's play EQUUS. Both as play and film EQUUS serves as a good example of the "atypical" manifestation of the "delirious" motif, for in EQUUS the distured character's fantasy does not become "affectively metaphenomal." But although the swan-fantasies of Aronofsky's film are more fully pursued on their own terms, BLACK SWAN is at times a little too pat and polished compared to, say, the oeuvre of Roman Polanski, whose TENANT, another uncanny film with this motif, might make for an interesting cross-comparison.

ADDENDA TO MYSELF: On further reconsideration, I've decided that the trope "delirious dreams and fallacious figments" should not apply to hallucinatory states, whether arising from psychosis or some other cause. This trope should apply only to phenomena that seem to interrupt the diegesis itself, which the hallucinations of BLACK SWAN's character don't. Therefore I've revised my labels to include only the trope "perilous psychos."

Friday, January 21, 2011

HAMLET (1948)

CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*

Compilers of fantasy-film archives have sometimes been divided as to whether or not to include HAMLET adaptations. In contrast to RICHARD III, where only one guilt-ridden character beholds what he thinks is a ghost, the ghost of Hamlet's father is seen by four other characters who, while perhaps disturbed by their king's passing, lack any real reason to have projected the spectre of that king out of their imagination.

So is the King real or not? One of the key metaphysical problems of the original play is whether or not the melancholy Dane- who is, actual history aside, the picture of the educated Renaissance man- should believe the words of a ghost, as seen in this speech, one of many pruned from the 1948 Laurence Olivier-directed film-adaptation:

The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps(595)
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me. I'll have grounds
More relative than this

I've always thought this was a point of Hamlet's depiction ruthlessly paved over by Olivier's conception of the character, cited at the opening play in words that are not Shakespeare's, as "a man who could not make up his mind." Whether this view was original with Olivier or not, it ignores the valid point the tormented Dane makes above. If you're going to toss reason and education out the window, and believe that ghosts are real, why stop there? Why couldn't the ghost be a devil, deceiving Hamlet to gull him into an unjustified act? And while the guilt of Claudius seems to indicate that the king's ghost was the real deal, HAMLET the play is not quite a "ghost story" in the "marvelous" sense of the word.

It does fit better in my re-conception of Todorov's category "the uncanny." Todorov's original category encompasses works in which phenomena that seem fantastic are proven to be either delusions or a mortal-made hoax, his most dominant examples being the fake horrors of Radcliffean Gothics. In my conception, Radcliffean Gothics still evoke the affectivity of the metaphenomenal in spite of the fact that it's proven that the ghost is actually Uncle Ephraim in disguise. Further, my "uncanny" also takes in many works Todorov placed in his transitional category "the fantastic," in which the reader/audience cannot be entirely sure whether or not to take the fantasy-material at face value. What the "ghost of Uncle Ephraim" of some imaginary Gothic and "the ghost-or-maybe-devil" of HAMLET have in common is a similar affectivity; of something that seems wondrous but which does not, in the end, have the same boundary-altering effect on the mortal realm that "the marvelous" does.

Of course one of the main reasons that Olivier feels comfortable in passing over Hamlet's metaphysical dilemma is that he heavily invested in the Freudian psychological interpretation, first put forth in 1900's THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS. Thus the reason Hamlet cannot make up his mind to avenge his father is because he had an "Oedipal desire for his mother and the subsequent guilt [is] preventing him from murdering the man [Claudius] who has done what he [Hamlet] unconsciously wanted to do."

Were I rating Olivier's HAMLET purely as a faithful translation of all of the Bard's implicit themes, its mythicity would be rated higher. However, there's a sense in which the Freudian reading of Shakespeare has taken on its own life, and in terms of evoking Freud, the 1948 succeeds quite well. The early scene in which Hamlet's mother Gertrude kisses her son on the mouth-- he, seated in a chair and seemingly distant-- while her new husband Claudius and the whole court look on is an apt summation of Freud's "family romance." On a side-note, perhaps to keep away the "ghost story" vibe, Olivier never lets us see the ghost of the late king, but resorts to cloudy mummeries to keep things in the psychological realm.

THE SPIDERS (1919-20)

FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

In my review of the 1929 TARZAN THE TIGER, I categorized it as having uncanny content in terms of two motifs: "outre outfits, skills and weapons" (for Tarzan) and "exotic lands and customs" (for the setting, which included the lost civilization of Opar).

In contrast to the TIGER, director Fritz Lang's earliest extant work shows how one can use the same motif and divest it of any fantastic expressivity.

THE SPIDERS that we have now is a compilation of two interrelated films that were originally released separately in Germany, entitled THE GOLDEN SEA and THE DIAMOND SHIP. Four parts were originally projected to be filmed but though only these two were made they succeed well enough in terms of coming to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. SPIDERS isn't terribly satisfying in most other respects, though.

Many reviews note similarities to Indiana Jones, in that the stories concerns amateur adventure-hero Kay Hoog traipsing around different exotic lands as he tries to foil the evil plans of a multinational criminal organization, "the Spiders." But in terms of phenomenality, there's little here to suggest the metaphenomemal dimensions of the RAIDERS series, the TARZAN stories, or even the progenitor of all "lost-civilization" stories, Rider Haggard's KING SOLOMON'S MINES.

Indeed, in the first part of SPIDERS, the hero and his adversaries do stumble across a lost Incan civilization full of treasure. But Lang's script plays the lost Incans down so much that they might as well have been any contemporary South American tribe. Lang's orientation here would have less in common with Indiana Jones than with more mundane globe-trotting types like Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt.

And the organization of "the Spiders" is no SPECTRE, for that matter. The only villain who makes any impression is the group's leader, whose name, Lio Sha, is implicilty Asian (or faux-Asian). Lio Sha is played with commendable energy by one Ressel Orla, and is far more worth remembering than the rather stuffy hero.

The only mythic symbolism evident here falls into the psychological pattern, in that, just as in TARZAN THE TIGER, the doughty hero is torn between a "good girl" and a "bad girl;" somewhat remarkably, both of them are dead by the end of the story. But Lang's screenplay and scenarios here are too picayune to inspire much excitement in any department. At best THE SPIDERS may be seen as training-ground for future, better endeavors.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MODE: *drama*

Like TARZAN THE TIGER, reviewed here, 1929's adaptation of the Jules verne novel MYSTERIOUS ISLAND appeared on the cusp between silent and sound films, and like TIGER, ISLAND met the challenge by mixing in scenes of spoken dialogue along with scenes with silent actors and title cards.

Unlike TIGER, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND has almost no resemblance to its source material.
In Verne, the island of the title is simply an ordinary island where the protagonists become shipwrecked, and where they encounter Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus, holed up on the isle long after the events of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

In this film, the "island" of the title is a volcanic isle where the main character builds not one but two submersible crafts in an unspecified time before submarines as such have been invented. Said main character, essayed by Lionel Barrymore, is not Captain Nemo, but borrows his name from the "secret identity" of Nemo as related in the Verne book, which was "Dakkar." However, Verne's Nemo in that book was East Indian (though the Nemo of the first book was given a nonspecific European heritage), and this "Dakkar" goes back to being European. His island laboratory is just off the case of a fictional, Slavic-looking country called "Hetvia," from which comes the villain, Baron Falon. Where Dakkar is a high-minded scientist out to use his submarines to improve human life, Falon invades the laboratory with the intention of taking the vehicles and using them for world conquest.

The only other two characters of importance are Dakkar's sister Sonia and her lower-class boyfriend Nikolai. Early in the story Dakkar, while feigning friendship with Dakkar, protests an alliance between highborn Sonia and lowborn Nikolai, but Dakkar demonstrates that despite being a European he's got an American sense of egalitarianism and treats Nikolai as a worthy suitor. That's about all one can say about Sonia and Nikolai, who are otherwise just the conventional operetta-style romantic couple.

The sociological myth here, then, is embodied by Dakkar and Falon: between progressive, democratic science-as-inquiry and retrograde, aristocratic science-for-conquest. ISLAND evokes these elements reasonably well, though nothing in Lucien Hubbard's script begs one to sit up and take notice.

The strongest scenes are those depicting the two submarines-- each crewed by one of the opposing forces-- struggling for existence on the ocean floor. They stumble across an undersea civilization of duck-faced humanoids who have never been off the ocean floor; whether they're meant to be evolutionary branch-offs or just freaks of nature is left to one's imagination. A particularly strong scene has the duck-men go mad when exposed to blood in the water from a wounded surfaceman.

Many "adventurous" things happen here but the Fryean mode is that of drama, stressing heroism less than tragedy. After Falon's defeat Dakkar, already wounded unto death, nobly orders his research destroyed before he too perishes, implicitly leaving the proper exploration of science up to future generations.

On a side-note the film was a commerical and critical disaster. Some experts have speculated that its failure might have stalled the appearance of science fiction as a pure genre in the cinema for many years thereafter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *"comedy" for (1), "adventure" for the other 2*

I decided to treat this three-course meal of Asian cuisine as one entry because all of them concerned the wilder side of the martial arts domain, in contrast to my previous entry on "uncanny" kung fu.

In addition, none of the three require a lot of plot-exposition. The riotous action-comedy EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES has a lot of plot-threads unraveling in all directions, apparently because it's some sort of broad parody of a Chinese novel of that title. One hopes for the author's sake that there's as little resemblance between his novel and the film as between Ian Fleming's CASINO ROYALE and the goofy 1966 version thereof.

I like to think I'm pretty catholic in my cinematic tastes, and one indicator of this is that I even like some Hong Kong comedies, despite their generally deserved reputation for, shall we say, "unsubtle" comedy. But EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES beats me out. Around the same time writer-director Jeff Lau did ESH he also did the two-part CHINESE ODYSSEY film, which is similarly wacky but was fitfully amusing. But although ESH has almost every kind of cut-rate HK fantasy one could want-- a floating head, flying boots, fighters who can shoot "chi" from every part of their anatomies-- ESH seemed interminably longer. Every actor in it mugs outrageously, and the script seems convinced that every single joke that puts the actors into a homosexual clinch is just screamingly funny. I guess if I tried to apply Campbell to this mess I'd reference the film's parody of traditional Taoist mystical beliefs, but it's hardly worth it.

In a slightly more serious metaphysical vein Tsui Hark, one of the godfathers of 1990s HK-cinema, gave us VAMPIRE HUNTERS in 2002. It's at least a watchable action-horror film, in which four kung-fu vampire hunters go about hunting both vampires and zombies. The hunters explain the etiological differences between the two, but the plot focuses less on the monsters than on a human villain, Master Jiang. Jiang's a rich miser who's lost most of his family but keeps them preserved in his manor a la Norman Bates, except that Jiang uses wax preservatives rather than taxidermy. Jiang does raise the mythicity here a little, as he makes a good symbol of what Campbell called "the tyrant Holdfast," the father-figure who wants to take all his riches (and his widowed daughter-in-law) with him to the grave. But the main heroes are rather dull and it's said the movie suffers from severe cuts for the American market

2008's ONECHANBARA, a Japanese adaptation of a video-game of the same name, is another zombie-fighting opus, albeit set in the future, when a mad scientist has polluted the world with killer zoms. For some unvoiced reason the same scientist also intervenes in the lives of two young girls, Aya and Saki, during their martial training by their swordsman father. The scientist somehow persuades Saki to kill her father, absconds with her and unleashes his zombies, in that order. Aya, the heroine of the story, goes after the madman and her sister with her sword, which is able to blaze with fire due to her powers of *chi,* or something.

There's nothing new in ONECHABARA, especially the way it tosses plot-points at the watcher like set-ups in a video game. But at least Aya's zombie-killing orgies have some visual flair, as does her climactic fight with Saki, who for some reason runs around in a sailor-suit school-uniform. The Campbellian function here would be psychological, since the crux of the conflict is the two sisters fighting over which receives the favors of the father, but I must admit I've seen a lot of Japanese films that delve into Oedipal matters with considerably more brio than ONECHANBARA.

Friday, January 7, 2011


For both films in the header:

FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Kung fu films, like films about Tarzan and his assorted imitators, rarely get extensively treated in film-fantasy concordances. Probably most encyclopedists would balk at trying to suss out which of the thousands of chopsocky programmers have significant fantasty-content, and I can't say I blame them. I enjoy the things, and I have to admit that these two sublimely stupid kung-fu outings-- which came to me on a single Netflix disc-- would prove daunting to anyone not already wedded to the genre by better outings.

Be that as it may, kung fu films are also a challenge to my categorization system. A comparative minority of them delve into the realm of the marvelous fantasy, while the majority would rate as "atypical" in that they're just about good guys beating on bad guys in a purely isophenomenal realm.

But there are some, like these two programmers, that fall into the realm of the uncanny because they portrary skills or weapons that are just a little too weird to belong to either "pure reality" or "pure fantasy."

BRUCE LEE'S WAYS OF KUNG FU is the more outrageous of the two. The plot, such as it is, concerns a nasty old man who lives in a cave-sanctuary with 18 young kung-fu hotties, who may or may not be his natural daughters. (The old coot is seen bedding at least one of them.) Because he's killed lots of people, various heroes keep trying to invade his sanctum and kill both the coot and his daughters, who possess amazing kung-fu skills and weird weapons. The weapons in particular edge this opus into the realm of the uncanny, including such familiar HK-cinema devices as (1) fans that can shoot multiple-darts and (2) "extending sashes," sashes which can somehow roll out from the attacker's hand and snare an opponent like a whip. Naturally, the ladies kick all the heroes' asses in the early chapters. Then the heroes regroup, learn more kung fu, and destroy the evil old man and his maybe-daughters.

There's one moment here that verges on the metaphysical. One hero escapes the sanctum by falling into a river, where he's rescued by a coffin-maker. In a real myth, this would signal the hero's entrance into the Land of the Dead. I don't think I'd give the filmmakers that much credit, but the potential is there.

Even lower on the mythicity scale is POWERFORCE. Apparently the original title was DRAGONFORCE, which is the name of an elite bunch of modern-day kung-fu crimestoppers led by a Bruce Lee imitator. The good guys go after a cadre of kung-fu evildoers who maintain a band of ninjas on the payroll. Ninjas, as costumed figures, can at times assume the aura of the uncanny but the ones here aren't anything but a bunch of rent-a-thugs. However, the one aspect of the plot that does betoken the uncanny is that the villains plan to brainwash a princess to do their bidding. If they'd used your basic sci-fi skullcap-doohickey, that would have pushed the film into the realm of the marvelous. But these villains, being lower-tech, do it with a special process of acupuncture (not to mention copious scenes of female nudity).

To be sure, better examples of the "chopsocky-uncanny" are out there. Hopefully I'll come across some of them later.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Though I'm a fan of the FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST anime-teleseries, I hadn't watched the later episodes in a while. I'd forgotten that the movie's narrative picks up about two years after the conclusion of the series, and focuses on one of the problems the series left up in the air: that Edward Elric, one of two brothers who practice real alchemy in an alternate world, becomes stranded in "our world," specifically in 1923 Germany, just as Nazism is on the rise.

FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST as a series has strong cosmological mythicity, given that its recurring theme focuses on the ability of the two alchemists Edward and Alphonse to literally transform objects into other objects. This seeming "magic," however, is always governed by a law resembling the laws of physics, which is the element that places the series-concept in Campbell's cosmological bailiwick.

To be sure, the movie is a little less mythic, largely because it's not able to deal as fully with the Faustian themes so often raised in the series. But the film does find a substitute for this theme with a Nazi science-experiment that attempts to open a gate into Elric's world in order to tap into the fabulous powers there.

As a sidenote, while Elric is trying to prevent the Nazi conspiracy, he gets assistance from none other than German-Jewish filmmaker Fritz Lang. The screenplay throws in some witty references to Lang's history with early science fiction films, as well as showing the mechanical dragon from SIEGFRIED and having Lang go by the fake name of "Mabuse." There's also a real dragon who is actually one of the denizens of Edward's world, who at one point is defeated by several spears that supposedly came from "the spear of Longinus." But this bit of quasi-Christian mythology is not enlarged upon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

For my first entry into my phenomenon-category "uncanny" I felt obliged to pick a Tarzan film.

One reason is that Tarzan gives me a chance to introduce two uncanny-tropes at once. "Exotic lands and customs" applies to the fantasized jungle-setting in which the Tarzan films take place, and this trope alone would be enough to label certain jungle-films as metaphenomenal, even if they lacked the presence of a mostly-naked hero raised by apes.

"Outre outfits, skills and weapons" is a portmanteau category for all those qualities ascribed to the heroes and/or villains of certain stories that can shuttle between the atypical and the uncanny. It should be obvious that though Tarzan doesn't have unusual weapons, both his appearance and his ability to talk to animals place him in this category.

Many fantasy-film references are divided as to whether or not Tarzan films belong under their rubric. I believe R.G. Young includes them all, but John Stanley's CREATURE FEATURES guide only mentions those that have some strong fantasy-content. But in my view Tarzan by himself is a metaphenomenal figure, even putting aside the facts that the "great apes" that raise him in Burroughs don't exist in the real world and that Burroughs' common language for all his creatures does not exist either. Tarzan is a fantasy-figure who may appear at times to conform to the demands of real-world causality, particularly in the more "realistic" films like TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). But affectively he is a fantasy no matter how cognitively realistic he may appear to be, though 1984's GREYSTOKE comes pretty close to banishing most of the fantastic affects of the original concept.

TARZAN THE TIGER is both the last silent Tarzan serial and the first sound Tarzan serial. It was shot as a silent but as sound films became the new thing the producers added music and limited sound effects. With the exception of Elmo Lincoln's TARZAN OF THE APES (1919), TIGER comes the closest of any Tarzan film to being a direct adaptation of a Burroughs text, TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR (1916). TIGER being a multi-part serial the plot naturally wanders quite a bit, but so does the original book. The gist of the plot is that while attempting to gather jewels from the lost city of Opar, ruled by lascivious queen La, Tarzan sustains a hit to the head that makes him lose his memory and forget his wife Jane-- which is great news for La, who's warm for the ape-man's form. There's an amusing scene where the confused Tarzan is seated between Jane and La, trying to make up his mind somewhat after the fashion of Hercules caught between Virtue and Vice.

Diamond hunter Albert Werper and slave-trader Achmet Zek, both villains from the Burroughs book, provide occasion for lots of decent if not exceptional fight-scenes with the hero.

Tarzan books often rate high in terms of mythic symbolism, but the films often don't fare so well. TIGER is noteworthy for being the second film to adapt the books' recurring character of Queen La. She was the most durable of Burroughs' many "evil queens," whom a Freudian would probably deem "phallic" because she kept trying to stab Tarzan for refusing her. The "Virtue-Vice" theme of the serial is largely in keeping with Burroughs' Victorian ethos and is the main source of the serial's mythic symbolism. Additional note: La is played by a actress, Mademoiselle Mithnou, of partial East Indian descent. I don't know if there are earlier East Indians who acted in Hollywood cinema but surely Mithnou is one of the first.

Excised from this adaptation is any reference to the fascinating mythologem (Sociological function in the Campbellian schema) of the La stories, in which Opar's populace is made up of extremely beautiful women and extremely bestial men, as a result of their own primitive eugenics program.

Sunday, January 2, 2011



This minor B-picture, an early work by later cult-fave director Budd Boetticher, is elected to be my first example of the biphenomenal nature of the archetypal trope I label "perilous psychos." JUROR is also one of the many minor mystery-flicks incorrectly (by my lights) listed in R.G. Young's mammoth ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC FILM. I don't intend to dispute every film he included, but JUROR has two illustrative advantages. One advantage to me is that I just watched it this morning, having recorded it from the TCM channel some time back. The other advantage is that it contains several elements that could have propelled the narrative into the category of "the uncanny."

JUROR is what critics of the period called a "murder-a-reel" picture, in that a killer's repeated killings provide the story's motive force. After an innocent man dies (or is believed to have died) as the result of a jury's bad decision, an unknown murderer starts knocking off the jurors. The police think it's some crazy who has identified with the injustice done to the condemned man, but big surprise: the condemned man faked his death using someone else's body. (I can just hear the voice of Don Adams: "Ah yes, the old body-burned-beyond-recognition trick!")

Said murderer (nicely played by George MacReady) certainly qualifies as a psycho killer, which is an element that often appears in films of the uncanny. But MISSING JUROR doesn't enter that realm I call the "affective metaphenomenal." MacReady's psycho is dangerous, but he suggests no terror greater than himself, as I would argue is the case with the psychos of full-blown horror films.

One visual element that appears in JUROR, later used for repeated effects throughout the Italian giallo-films of later decades, is that of the killer being suggested through his wearing of thick, fingerprint-concealing gloves. In a giallo like Mario Bava's pacesetting BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, the gloves of the unseen killer take on a numinous symbolism. The gloves of the killers in BLACK LACE are the gloves of Death given human form. The gloves of JUROR's nutcase are just gloves.

The mythos of JUROR is "drama," or more precisely "melodrama;" both of which place more emphasis on the activities of antagonistic forces than on those of the protagonist. The hero here is your basic hardboiled newspaper reporter who knows crime better than the cops, and neither he nor the other characters ever take on the symbolic dimensions of the better B-mysteries of the time. Some of these do venture into interesting variations in the realm of psychological symbolism (Campbellian function: "Psychological"), and that's the general thrust of JUROR's hackneyed script. But aside from MacReady's performance the only interesting facet of JUROR are some of Boetticher's set-ups. One close-up scene appears to open with a man being strangled, only to pull back and reveal that the man's neck is being massaged by a masseuse played by hardworking character actor Mike Mazurki.

DARK STAR (1974)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

"Going to the movies, and making movies when I was young, was a way of making sense of the world I was living in."-- John Carpenter, director of DARK STAR

"Teach it-- phenomenology."-- the dead-yet-alive Commander Powell's advice on how to stop a bomb from worrying about exploding and to make it learn to love solipsism

Given the quote on phenomenology, I could hardly choose any other film for my first review here. The phenomenality of DARK STAR is uncomplicated: though some SF geeks would probably protest any equivalence between the wonders of science fiction and those of magical fantasy, the two categories have the same value in a narratological sense.

In contrast to most comedies, most ironies are about characters who possess little efficacy at the story's beginning and end up with even less of it by story's end. Certainly this describes the four astronauts of the scout ship Dark Star, as well as their dead commander, preserved in cryonic stasis but still capable of giving advice from the grave like one of Odysseus's shades of Hades. The ship's crew suffers assorted humiliating mishaps but their final doom is sealed by one of the bombs they use to blow up unstable planets. The Bomb (capitalized because it's an intelligent computer-bomb that functions as a character) jams in the bombay door and threatens to destroy the Dark Star. In the end (and no one reading this blog should ever expect spoiler warnings frome me), crewmen Boiler and Pinback are dead, the Commander's frozen body careens off into space, crewman Talby attains dubious immortality by merging with an alien intelligence and crewman Doolittle surfs his way down into a planetary atmosphere, where he flares up like a Viking warrior being burned with his ship.

Thus the primary subject of this ironic meditation on the tedium of space-voyages is ultimately death. And should one choose to label that symbolic discourse/mythicity in terms of Joseph Campbell's "four functions," then the dominant orientation of the discourse is toward the "Metaphysical." In science fiction, of course, the Metaphysical can only be symbolically real, not literally real within the discourse as in (say) C.S. Lewis' NARNIA books. But creators Carpenter and O'Bannon throw in a further irony to their metaphysical outlook. Whereas the ship's crew are inevitably doomed and only win some degree of the audience's respect through the nature of their deaths, the object that causes most of their deaths-- the computerized Bomb that ends up destroying the scout ship-- becomes as metaphysically aware as Hal-9000 of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, a probable model for DARK STAR. Yet here too Carpenter and O'Bannon play ironically with the earlier concept. Acting on the Commander's advice, Doolittle (ironic name-choice there) tries to talk the "smart Bomb" into questioning his reason for existence (to blow things up) so that it will refrain from exploding. It works only briefly, though, for the artificial intelligence's ultimate response to a solipsistic reading of phenomenology is to deem itself God-- at which point "Bomb-God," apparently doing a little quick Bible-research, quotes Genesis 1:3-- "Let there be light!"-- and goes off anyway.


The "lurkers" of the title are the same as the three categories of phenomena for which the blog is named: the ATYPICAL, the UNCANNY, and the MARVELOUS. The two "thresholds" are the interstitial areas between "atypical" and "uncanny," and between "uncanny" and "marvelous." The interrelationship of the three is as linear as time's winged arrow; if there's a way the line can turn into a circle, I don't see it.

I first outlined the particular of "the AUM formula" on my companion blog THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE. Anyone interested in the finer theoretical points can check out all the essays filed under that subject. On this blog I'm concerned with explicating the theory in terms of particular works, mostly (if not exclusively) movies.

Few if any works in other media make for better illustrations of a theory than a movie does. Novels (graphic or otherwise), serial comic books and strips, serial television-- all of these require much more time-commitment than your average two-hour movie, which in most cases is the equivalent of a novella projected on what Bruce Kawin called the "dream screen" of the human consciousness.

My attempts to label works as either atypical, uncanny or marvelous stem from my long-held opinion that there ought to be a good phenomenological basis for labelling a work as "fantastic" or not. In brief, the three categories break down thusly:

MARVELOUS-- those works that break with causality and rational phenomena in some way, be it in a major or minor manifestation of "metaphenomena"
UNCANNY-- those works that acknowledge causality in a cognitive manner but edge into the world of the metaphenomenal in an affective sense
ATYPICAL-- those works that conform to causality and rationality in both cognitive and affective departments

More often than not the category of the marvelous will be pretty self-evident, though there are a few times where its separation from the category of the uncanny is debateable. The more problematic threshhold lies between "A" and "U," because they share elements of "realistic content" (to extrapolate from C.S. Lewis) that can have "realistic presentation" in the case of the Atypical, but "irrealistic presentation" in the case of the Uncanny.

These elements, in turn, I have categorized into ten archetypal arrangements. I won't detail those ten here, but will explain each, over time, by particular example.

These ten "biphenomenal-curious archetypes" would make a worthy subject for an academic book. Since I've no interest in the academic world as such, the only way such a book *might* see print would be if this blog somehow attained some incredible, and perhaps unholy, popularity. The chances of that being infinitesimal, the main purpose of the blog is for me to sort out my thoughts on these matters.

Two other concerns of literary morphology will be mentioned in my short analyses of films: the concept of *mythicity* and the concept of *the Fryean mythos.* The theoretical underpinnings of these concepts will also be found on THE ARCHIVE. Sometimes these concepts may be heavily referenced; sometimes they may be noted in passing.