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October 14, 2010
Writing about web page http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/research/conferences/criticaltheory/
Sorcha Gunne and I recently spoke at the conference ‘Violence and Reconciliation’. We were talking on narrativising rape and revising scripts of power in short stories by Isabel Allende and Rosario Castellanos. You can see our abstract here Alongside us were papers by Andrew Hennlich who spoke on William Kentridge’s film Ubu Tells the Truth and Xavier Aldana Reyes who discussed ‘Contemporary Horror and the Mediation of Violence.
Hennlich focussed on the links between Kentridge’s film about witnessing violence in South Africa (made in 1997) and Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1927). Hennlich analyzed the words FOR GIVE which appear onscreen and questioned whether to give is an act of compassion or an act of aggression related to the Afrikaans word ‘gif’ meaning poison. Often Kentridge’s imagery suggests that humanity is troubling, e.g. the pig’s head wearing earphones. One particularly interesting scene that Hennlich commented on was the moment when the camera becomes complicit in acts of violence itself; Kentridge shows it blowing up bodies, an act that was based on testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Even for the camera, it is impossible to recover those lost in the violence of Apartheid.
Reyes also commented on the legacies of violence describing the plots and motifs of some very disturbing horror films. The films discussed included Funny Games (1997), My Little Eye (2001), _The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) and Untraceable (2008). Most of these films have plots relates to recording extreme violence and Reyes described them as Sadeian. Reyes also suggested that the films were not as popular as horror blockbusters like Hostel, because the plots are far more uncomfortable. These films reflect a wound culture, where people stop to look at dead bodies on the pavement and internet users are given the choice whether or not a person dies horribly.
We had an interesting discussion after the panel about the representations of women in these films. Reyes explained that in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, an FBI film analyst tells the other agents that after his wife saw a short extract from one of the tapes, she was so traumatized that she couldn’t let her husband touch her for a year. Again in The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a victim of the murderer who survives, Cheryl Dempsey, is unable to function socially and ends up committing suicide. I had a look on YouTube after the paper and found this disturbing video related to The Poughkeepsie Tapes – disturbing because half way through the “interview” with Cheryl, it becomes clear that she has been severely physically damaged. I actually find the representation of Cheryl extremely objectionable. All it seems to do is reactivate the same old scripts of gendered power and domination. From what Reyes told us about Untraceable, it seems that similar scripts are at work in the representation of the heroine, Jennifer Marsh, who at the end of the film (spoilers!) is caught and tortured before she finally kills the murderer. I am amazed that these exploitative representations of women are still being used, even if it is the horror genre.