Archive for the ‘masturbation’ Category

How Does the Bourgeoisie Masturbate?

December 9, 2007


At the point when I realized that Trouble Everyday had sat for two years in my Netflix queue in spot number 4, I knew I was having some kind of weird psychological conflict over seeing this movie. I love anything Claire Denis touches. She has this talent for finding beauty in the bitterly ugly. Usually, I rush out to theater to see her movies as soon as possible. When Beau Travail came out on DVD — her adaptation of Melville’s short story “Billy Budd” using the French foreign legion in Africa — I made sure to grab a copy immediately. In the case of Trouble Everyday, however, the problem, the reason for my resistance, was apparent from the start. Vincent Gallo! She used him in Nenette et Boni, but I naively must have believed that any smart director would have learned her lesson the first time through.

Denis used him again! Let it be recorded for posterity here and now that I find Vincent Gallo to be abhorrent. Performance Studies scholars (heh) make reference to the actor’s body when discussing certain meta-textual effects used by directors. A canny director will use an actor’s previous casting to winkingly comment upon his new role. Take Julie Benz in Dexter. Anyone who knew her as Darla, the vicious vampire in a cheerleading outfit, has a difficult time accepting the dewy innocence of her Rita at face value — and the show wisely takes advantage of this. In the case of rat-faced Vincent Gallo, however, the skeeviness of his body overrides any acting roles that he takes on. His gift is to annihilate any character he’s playing. The only way I can understand Claire Denis’ repeated use of him is in reference to his famous ugliness. Perhaps she considers it a directorial challenge to redeem the monster.

So, this weekend I succumbed and just watched the damn thing. It wouldn’t be the most tasteful thing in the world to describe this film as a feast for the eyes, but so it is. It’s beautiful despite Gallo, who fits inasmuch as his character is modeled on the classic mad scientist of Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde. The over-rendered bucolic backdrops, with yellow light illuminating branches we see slowly dripping with blood, cum, and other sex juices, could be used in a Silent Hill game. And the collaborative music from The Tindersticks (some of the scenes were purportedly written from the music), with whom Denis has worked several times before, gives the film sensuality.

Gallo plays a chemist, Shane, in Paris pretending to his wife that they are on a normal honeymoon while he searches for Dr Léo Semeneau (played by the creepy Alex Descas). Shane and Semeneau worked together in the past, in Africa, where Shane stole Semenau’s work. Both Shane and Semaneau’s wife, Coré (Béatrice Dalle), are afflicted with a disease that forces them to literally hunger for those after whom they lust.

In a film about cannibalism, then, casting Gallo is actually apt. Let’s just get the obvious out of the way. Usually, we associate cannibalism with primitive tribes. Of course, we know better. Cannibalism is one of capitalisms own fantasies; one that it projects outwards. Eating others is literally the most direct way of satisfying our selfish desires. Denis’ challenge is to make cannibalism sexy, which is one way to depict how selfishly we behave with our “partners” when we are having sex.

One of the best scenes in the movie shows Vincent Gallo fucking his wife (Tricia Vessey). When he reaches the verge of climax, he rushes to the bathroom to jerk off into the bathtub while his wife pounds on the locked door, screaming to be let in. Simultaneous orgasm is film and television’s biggest cliché. To this viewer, having seen Chloe Sevigny blow him in Brown Bunny, there is no question that we actually watch Gallo’s real jism arc across the bathroom in that scene. Gallo is a pervert, and Claire Denis is enabling him, but the point about sexual solitude is well-made. And when Tricia Vessey’s character begs Shane to “let me in” emotionally, the sympathetic feminist in me prays she gets some help quick. Her character is spared because they’re in love, which, as we all know, is the opposite of lust.

Once I overcame my casting prejudice, one thing tormented me about this movie and it left this viewer with an open question to ponder. I’ve never understood the whole thing with characters in art films masturbating while lying on their stomachs. I could see a lithe Meg Ryan doing it in Jane Campion’s In the Cut (the English Professor stalking film), but watching Vincent Gallo doing it for Claire Denis felt especially physically awkward. There are two downward facing masturbation scenes in this movie, which totally perplexed me. Given independent and foreign cinema’s fascination with masturbating towards the bed, does it logically follow that masturbating while lying on one’s back is bourgeois?

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