3/27/09

Spirals, Pt.2

This was supposed to be the second part of the post (Spirals, Pt.1) below, this time looking at another famous film "inspired by" Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Paul Verhoeven's "Basic Instinct."

And, listen, there are many, many interesting correspondences, correspondences that circle in on themselves, even more than "La Jetee"-- "Basic Instinct" was meant as a companion piece, I think, rather than a tribute.

But that is precisely what interested me about "Basic Instinct." The spirals were there, were dazzling (see especially the first scene with Roxy, where she twirls her hair into Novak's spiral, and we see it in the mirror, rather than straight on-- the double (Roxy is mistaken for Sharon Stone's character, Catherine, who is herself, because of the "Vertigo" association, meant as a sort of double of Novak's character in "Vertigo") being doubled by the mirror). But the interesting thing is how Joe Ezsterhas and Verhoeven play with those spirals to make them yield additional suspense, and, just possibly, resolution.

Consider that in "Vertigo," Judy is playing at being someone else (Madeleine) who is playing at being a third person, "Carlotta." If we then have Catherine in the role of Judy, who is at the root of Novak's spiral, we expect that she is then "playing" another role, in this case, Elisabeth Garner, who must then in turn, be playing a third role, where we assign the killer's psyche-- either Catherine's protagonists, or Beth's Catherine. Look already at how cleverly the screenwriters have played it: at that third level, we have fictional characters playing at being fictional characters playing at fictional characters. This is why I say that it is the cultural reference that is so exciting here. Indulging in these sorts of associations not only helps us to understand the movie, but presents us with possible "solutions" while we watch it, and thereby ratchets up the suspense already present.

The notion that the work of art is disjunct and isolated is not only naive but very frequently dull. I suspect that it is the result of an idea that the work of art is a carefully controlled set of conditions imposed by the artist, something like a Cornell box, containing items from the world but set apart from it and closed off. But we have been thoroughly disabused of that closed-system theory by several generations of "the reader/viewer constructs the artwork and its meaning," and to whatever degree you choose to believe that. I don't think that anyone would claim the author as absolute authority anymore.

I mean that, in not engaging the culture outside of the work, the work fails to take advantage of the sort of associational thinking that every person in its audience is capable of. I don't mean to recapitulate metafiction here-- I don't think that is what I am saying at all, because frequently metaficiton is just as insular and isolated as older, more "conventional" fiction. Rather, I mean that the work that appropriates, borrows, references, or evokes has more power than the strictly disjunct or isolated work, and it has many more possibilities of effect, interpretation, and even composition.

I don't think that this is a new concept. Not at all. But as I consider it more fully, I realize that that is what I find so boring about fiction that I can't finish, about movies that I wish I had never started.