MK Ultra, The C.I.A. & Sex Slaves (The Ward, 2010)

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John Carpenter’s 2010 film “The Ward” is clearly not his best work. In fact, it’s pretty bad.

However, I can’t help but be fascinated by this damn thing. I’m not even 100% sure why? But I do believe there’s something interesting simmering just below its surface.

The film begins with a young woman (whom we later learn is…) named Kristen being brought (unwillingly) to a psychiatric hospital in a town called North Bend, Oregon in 1966. We just witnessed her setting fire to, what looks like, an abandoned house to me. But since it IS an act of vandalism and (perhaps? some kind of…) violent anarchy? I suppose some kind of punishment is in order! But a ‘psych ward’? Why not jail? I don’t know? they never show her being examined by a doctor, she just winds up in a ‘loony bin’! Seems a little odd, but fine, let’s go along with the story. Perhaps she’s there because of some mistake?

Before long we learn the other girls in this psyche-ward (and there are ONLY girls here, it’s like “Girl, Interrupted” in this respect, but ONLY in this respect!) seem to be ‘archetypes’ and we’re introduced to them all: the ‘baby’, the ‘nymph’, the ‘artist’ and the ‘prankster’. But there’s no real specific ‘illness’ attributed to any of them. I mean, we know they’re supposed to be ‘insane’ in some way and some of them ‘act out’ in (mildly) ‘crazy’ ways. But we get no specifics. Most of them seem like they’re there against their will.

Kristen tries constantly to fight her captors and rally her fellow patients to escape. None of them seem remotely interested in helping her, nor all that motivated to resist. Eventually, Kristen hears about a girl who was in the room she occupies and that something happened to her. Kristen can’t get anyone to even say the prior girl’s name and she then sees and is perpetually haunted by some kind of female ghoul (?) and predictably, nobody believes her, not even her fellow patients.

The nurses aren’t quite “Nurse Ratched types”, but they’re certainly not warm either. The male orderlies seem rough and vaguely like they might be sexual predators.

Throughout the film we see these very brief, short clips of a young girl (about 10 yrs. old?) chained up in a basement being tortured and sexually assaulted by…some one? One clip shows the silhouette of a man entering the basement, unbuckling his pants and approaching the shackled pre-pubescent girl. It’s clearly a ‘flashback’, but we don’t know which girl she’s meant to represent…yet!

Well, after Kristen is attacked by the ghoulish girl figure in the showers, everyone finally seems to reveal that they know what she’s talking about, but are intentionally keeping quiet about it.
That night, Kristen fakes taking her meds and attempts to escape, but is ultimately caught in the end. At this point, the (until now) benevolent ‘chief head shrinker’ of the ward, suddenly turns none to benevolent at all and has Kristen forcibly restrained and given electric shock treatment as punishment for her insolence. Afterwards the orderlies throw her, like a rag doll, on the bed in her ‘cell’…
“They should do this to all the patients!”, says one orderly to the other.

What we learn eventually, is that ALL the girls in this psyche-ward are, in fact, different personalities of the same girl. A girl named, curiously, Alice. This includes Kristen, the girl originally in her room and even the ‘ghoul girl’…they’re all fragments of Alice’s fractured psyche, which leads to my main theory of the film…

I believe the film is a metaphor and slightly veiled commentary on the government’s use of mind control programs. Perhaps Carpenter is trying to tell a story which is a metaphor for the 1950s and 60s government MK Ultra program?

I think that’s exactly what he’s doing!

We know John Carpenter can be a political filmmaker. His late 80s film, “They Live” is an absolute, barely disguised critique of society and the controlling hand of the U.S. government, through the use of a simple Sci-fi movie about alien invasion. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch that this film may be a comment and critique of the US government’s mind control programs. Only this time, within the simple frame-work of a ‘psychological horror’ theme. In fact I believe Carpenter is making a similar commentary as Stanley Kubrick did with “Eyes Wide Shut”, though admittedly not as clever or as well executed; but it’s not fair to compare any filmmaker to Stanley Kubrick, he was clearly a genius!
But essentially, I think Carpenter is displaying a similar theme?

See, this film takes place at the peak of the government’s MK Ultra program: late 50s early 60s. The main character in the film is a female (brought to the hospital in the late ’50s) which leads me to believe the film is not just about mind control, but more specifically the MK Ultra program (supposedly) responsible for creating female ‘sex slaves’ with the express purpose of ‘pimping out’ to powerful men in high office; major politicians. These gals, who’re ‘pimped out’ to politicians were known as “presidential models”. As in, they were (quite literally) used as personal sex toys to presidents. While the MK Ultra program has been admitted to by our government, not so the ‘sex slave’ angle. It’s still a controversial theory. Some say it never took place at all, others claim it happened to them personally! *For further info, read the book: “Trance-Formation of America” by Cathy O’Brien. She claims to have had sex with nearly every president and politician since Gerald Ford! The very first claim of this variety was in the late 1950s early 60s by radio personality (the Art Bell of his day) “Long” John Nebil’s wife: Candy Jones (former fashion model and radio host in her own right). “Long John” put his wife under hypnosis when she was having ‘issues’ and didn’t know how else to help her. Well, what happened was that, while under trance, she revealed this incredible story of mind control and multiple personalities (before the government even admitted they were engaged in such acts, it should be noted). She claimed one of her personalties was the ‘presidential model’. In addition, she claimed other personalities were used as a government spy, some to seduce enemy agents, others to steal covert Intel and still more to smuggle drugs and contraband into and out of the U.S. and foreign countries. All the while, she was completely unaware this had been done to her, nor did she remember what she said while under hypnosis…essentially, she was (supposedly) mind controlled to ‘please’ those in governmental power.
Seem far-fetched? Perhaps? Not so much, when you consider the U.S. Government actually admitted to doing non-consent, trance, hypnosis, drug and torture experiments on thousands and thousands of its citizens!

Many controversial and infamous figures, people like: writer (and Merry Prankster) Ken Kesey, Robert Hunter (singer songwriter, Grateful Dead pal), Timothy Leary (Psychologist and psychedelics advocate), Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber!), James “Whitey” Bulger (notorious Boston gangster) and even (perhaps) Sirhan Sirhan all took part in MK Ultra LSD experiments, Kesey and Hunter at Stanford, Kaczynski and Leary while at Harvard and Bulger when locked up at Leavenworth…where it’s also claimed Charlie Manson was a subject! (It should be noted here, that all of the above people mentioned, volunteered for these “experiments”…not so for many, many others!)

All the hallmarks of CIA government mind control appear in the film. The female victim of MK Ultra mind control is almost always sexually assaulted and physically tortured from a young age; as a way of inducing multiple personalties. Parts of this were admitted by our government. The use of trauma and torture to (metaphorically) split the psyche of their subject open, fracturing the mind and (attempting to…) create multiple personalities. They would then use those different personalities for various purposes and ‘secret operations’ (something like a Manchurian Candidate). This is classic ‘text book’ Mind Control programming.

Well, eventually we learn in the film that the main character, Kristen, is really the girl named Alice. Reminding me immediately of, Alice in Wonderland, which I’m told is a commonly used source material in the programming of mind control slaves. Lewis Carroll’s text, it’s said, was used by the government in the conditioning and programming process. To me, this was a clear wink and a nod from Carpenter as a direct reference to government mind control/sex slave programming.
*As an interesting (and perhaps creepy) side note, I know for a fact that Scientology also uses Carroll’s texts in (what they refer to as…) their ‘TR rundowns’ or Training Routines-which would take a whole post in itself to explain…anyway, another time perhaps?

When you group all the details here; the fact the film takes place in a psychiatric hospital, in the late 1950s early 60s no less, with a young girl who has been traumatized and tortured as a young girl (we learn that Alice was, in fact, the girl chained and tortured in the basement, the same house the Kristen part of her burned down in the beginning!) her psyche is fragmented into several different personalities-all those ‘archetypes’ she encounters as other patients-the psyche-ward’s lounge is like the interior of her mind. Rape, sexual torture, drugs and physical abuse were all used on Alice and it clearly fragmented her mind. Yet, it seems she’s continuing to be traumatized (re-traumatized?) by the very psychiatric institution she’s (supposedly) being “helped” by and here it could be stated the institution is attempting to end her mind control programming-for good! We watch as her fractured personalities (the female archetypes) are slowly killed off, ‘slasher style’ by Alice, who psychologically kills her multiple personalities off…by the use of (an additional personality) the female ghoul of the film, until eventually the character we were following as our protagonist, Kristen, is ‘murdered’ by the ‘ghoul girl’. It would seem (according to what those who’ve undergone MK programming) that Alice has out-lived her usefulness to the government (the people we see as her parents could also be-what is know as-‘handlers’, it’s said mind control ‘handlers’ are often parents; who sell their children to the government for total use of mind, body and soul) as subjects of MK programming claim girls either ‘age out’ or become risks to the program by becoming ‘psychotic’ and then get “reprogrammed” and in the film, Alice is, apparently, at this stage, brought back to the hospital for ‘reprogramming’ or to have her mind washed clean.

Towards the end of the film, the Kristen persona jumps out the window to her death while the ‘ghoul girl’ attacks her and she awakens to find she has returned to her ‘primary’ personality: Alice. It’s then that we’re introduced to her parents, who’re told by the doctor she’s been ‘cured’. Yet, the last shot of the film shows Alice (while leaving for good) glancing in the mirror and, without warning, the ‘Kristen’ persona appears in the mirror, crashes through it and grabs Alice pulling her inside. This has three separate metaphors to impart. First, it tells us Alice hasn’t been ‘reprogrammed’ properly and Kristen (the rebellious aspect of Alice’s nature) is still there, inside her. Second, the mirror imagery is an important one in mind control programming. It’s generally understood that mind control slaves are taught to stare into mirrors as a method to induce trance and bring out one of their multiples. Third and last, there’s the obvious allusion to “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass” Lewis Carroll’s follow up to “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice has, quite literally, gone through the looking glass here.

I must discuss the ‘head doctor’ in the film, who (in my opinion) represents a real life, despicable Doctor. Donald Ewen Cameron, a Scots psychologist who was made head of a large psychiatric hospital (McGill’s Allan Memorial Hospital) in Canada by the CIA/U.S. government to torture, abuse and essentially do as he so pleased to the poor bastards at his mercy with no consent from the patients at all. Many of his victims (make no mistake, these were victims) never recovered their minds ever again and were permanently destroyed for the rest of their lives. *I saw video of one of Dr. Cameron’s former patients (a grown man) break down in uncontrollable sobbing while recounting his (brief) time in the “hospital”. And he was one of the lucky ones! Dr. Cameron used electric shock, powerful drugs, just as the doctor in the film played by Jared Harris (also of Scots descent) used similar “tools”. Dr Cameron indulged in unspeakable and insidious methods to ‘crack the mind’ of his patients, for the express purpose and use of our ‘fine’ government. This should never be forgotten and aught to be remembered as one of the most embarrassing in the annals of U.S history. We, as a nation, mustn’t forget these deeds actually took place! Doctors literally engaged in torture, sadistic, cruel and experimental (often permanent) damage to patients minds and souls! We also know that Cameron seemed to have no compunction about doing this for the last part of his professional life. Oddly, Cameron was a vehement anti-nazi, who claimed he conducted these experiments to (somehow) combat Nazism…? I’m reminded here of Nietzsche: “be careful when staring into the abyss, as the abyss may stare back at you!” Cameron clearly stared long and hard into the abyss!
In contrast to Dr. Cameron was a Dr. Sidney Gottlieb. Also hired by our government, the CIA, to (again, without consent) mind-fuck CIA agents, sneaking LSD into their cocktails (which resulted in the known suicide of at least one agent, Frank Olson, a fact that wasn’t divulged to his wife for thirty years!), prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless, mental patients, prisoners and others without recourse. However, Gottlieb eventually (after retiring from the government’s despicable program) admitted what they had engaged in was ultimately totally useless. He seemed troubled and conscience stricken by his deeds-for he then turned humanitarian-studying Buddhism, Hinduism and retiring to an environmentally efficient goat farm in Virginia where he and his wife made yogurt. Eventually, they moved to India where he helped the sick, less-fortunate and dying, giving freely of himself until his dying day…the victim of a guilty conscience, no doubt!

Yes, our country committed these acts…and these are the ones they are willing to admit to. Can you imagine what they keep hidden?

I’d suggest watching “The Ward”, not because it’s a great movie, because it really isn’t…ignore (if you can?) the silly junk…it’s really non-essential to the point of the film anyway. Instead, watch and see if you can locate references to MK Ultra and mind control. Perhaps you’ll find much more than I did? Once I noticed the symbols, it became a far more interesting movie. Not enough to elevate my rating of the film above sub-mediocre level. However, it was exciting to know John Carpenter still has a bit of that old “Hollywood-Left” hippie, politico in him.

*Happy (belated) Birthday, John Carpenter…his birthday was in January I know, but I was so lazy and dragged my heels on this post for so long, I only finished it today. But whatever, it’s not like I’m on a deadline (or paid!)…so, fuck it!

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From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week Four: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

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Happy Halloween: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(40th Anniversary of a genuine, true art-house, horror classic!)

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Now it begins…Aleister Crowley died in 1947…The Texas Chainsaw Massacre premiered in 1974…just months prior, in 1973, over-the-counter ‘cough syrup’ (more importantly the psychedelic-dissociative) Romilar made it’s ‘final bow’ from pharmacy shelves and ’70s teenagers everywhere mourned…but a new Aeon was in bloom; as the character, Pam, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre says: “[in the summer of 1974] Saturn is in Retrograde!” Saturn, in astrology is the King of Karma and retrograde is Karma meted out…so indeed, something wicked this way comes…

Of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, right?
But…
Why ‘art-house’ film?
Because, quite sincerely, in my opinion: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is and always has been, more than a horror film…though it’s that too! But, the film transcends the genre and that label. I truly find it to be an ‘art film’ of the most visceral variety.

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The film resides in the Museum of Modern Art’s film archives and is lauded by such esteemed filmmakers (as far afield) as: Steven Spielberg and William Friedkin. I don’t know of one modern experimental/noise musician/artist who hasn’t cited the film’s score as an “influence” on their work. I can hear shades of the soundtrack in songs like “Hamburger Lady” by Throbbing Gristle and much of the early British power-electronics scene. But it’s not just because of the above facts, but oh so much more, that it’s clear to me the film has much more to express and offer than just really good “shock-horror”…though it has that too!

In my opinion, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film that’s more than the sum of it’s parts. In fact, It’s described by the film’s editor and director’s assistant Sallye Richardson as ‘being born’ when they finished the absolute final mix of the film. She states* “I got scared, I got really scared, because it became something other than what it was, it went to another dimension, it was like a spirit went into it, it became that entity that people now look at. A spirit went into that thing–it wasn’t always there, but after [the final mix] it was always there…it was that magical thing, it wasn’t just a piece of film any more–that’s when I got scared.” I can’t think of a better way of describing the brilliance of this film. It can’t be codified and any attempts to explain what makes it so effective and ‘genius’ falls apart in your hands, disintegrates before you can get a grip on it…the film is ineffable, one cannot ‘pin it down’. There’s something intrinsic to the film, perhaps there’s something ‘in’ the celluloid, as Sallye Richardson alludes to? It can’t fully be explained and I won’t even try.

I’ve stated on many occasions (and still maintain) that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is “the best American film ever made”** not the best American “horror film” ever made, no, the best American film ever made…period! I usually avoid even naming “favorite films”, I don’t even like to compare favorite films…but the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for some strange reason, I feel I can safely say, is my favorite American film! The film is SO quintessentially “American” too. It personifies just about everything American one can think of: the break-up of the family unit, barbecue, ‘mom and pop jobs’ squashed by ‘big corporations’, youth culture, taxidermy and most importantly chainsaws!

The film has something about it that cannot be ”re-created” either. Lord knows “they’ve” tried! The number of sequels and remakes alone, make this pretty clear. The film gives people the impression it would be ‘easy’ to tap into. It seems deceptively simple to recreate…but it’s not…many have tried, all have failed. Even the director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, could never recreate that same level of cinematic genius. I firmly believe it’s a film that could only have been created at that time, could only exist at that particular period in history. Ironically, the film never seems ‘dated’. It exists inside it’s own universe, a universe that reflects the real world, but is distinctly separate from it. It’s what I believe the best films all contain, to one extent or another. The film also seemed to have spilled forth directly from Tobe Hooper’s “Id”, which is what makes it the ‘art-house/horror film’ I believe it to be. It’s also what makes it look like a beautiful piece of surreal art and a disciplined crafting of pure Id. I don’t think Hooper himself could tell you why the film works as well as it does? Could it be that it was created by a group of young Austin filmmakers, artists and performers heroically charged with mega-doses of enthusiasm who all wanted to help create the best low budget movie that they could? Well, we could explore all these elements and I could write about them all, but I think it would ultimately be a fool’s errand. Clearly, it’s not any of those things, neither individually nor combined, that make this film the genius work of art that it is. Plenty of other films have contained the same or similar ‘elements’ but did not produce an end product anywhere near the kind of final results we see from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The essential plot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ridiculously simple (a group of young people travel to an unfamiliar locale and are killed off by a family of cannibals…that’s it! That’s the extent of the ‘plot’) as I said already, this is a film that’s far more than the sum total of it’s parts. In fact the ‘simplistic plot’, I think, helps make the rest of the film come to life and move to the fore as graphically and creatively as it does. There’s a vast amount of information, data and details packed densely, yet economically, into this rather paltry plot of a horror film. It does everything a good film is supposed to do. It puts you, the viewer, into the place of the protagonists. Makes you feel what they feel, brings their fear and terror directly to you…but subtly. It doesn’t beat you over the head (pun fully intended) with what it’s trying to express. In fact many a modern filmmaker could learn a lot from this little low budget film from Austin, Texas.

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A perfect example of what I’m talking about is when the first victim in the film steps into the decrepit ‘old house’. He stumbles, tripping, through a doorway with a blood red wall covered with horns, antlers, animal skulls, pelts and other bits of odd deathly detritus behind it. The sound of a pig squealing can be heard among the rattling of animal bones that hang from the ceiling, like primitive ghastly mobiles. Then, suddenly and without warning, a big hulking ‘humanoid’ wearing another person’s face for a mask and a bloodied butcher’s apron, just appears from behind and stands, looming, before him. A low guttural pig’s squeal is heard once again and “It” raises it’s hand-held sledge hammer, brings it down on the young man’s skull and cracks it. The body drops to the floor and lays in the doorway, shaking, twitching and convulsing…the hulking thing drags the rest of the young man’s body inside his lair and slams the sliding metal door closed with a metallic ‘kelang!’ and a harsh, dissonant musical chord thunders across the soundtrack at the same time. It’s the only bit of music in the entire scene, which expertly serves to heighten the mood and add to the creepy, stomach churning fear and anxiety of the scene. It’s brilliantly executed! Young filmmakers could learn an important lesson from this one scene alone…restraint! Restraint, which is sorely lacking from most films today.

The last scene of the film is another example of exactly why the film is sheer genius! I defy anybody to deny that Marilyn Burns doesn’t look like she has, quite literally, lost her mind while she sits, crouching and clutching manically for something to hold onto, screaming her head off in the back of that pick-up truck, as it drives her away to safety and away from the bizarre horrors she’s just endured. Leaving Leatherface, with his chainsaw swirling about in the air like a child throwing a temper tantrum, a shamanic dance in the dawn’s early light. But, it’s that look on Burns’ face in the last scene that proves to me the film exceeds it’s meager limitations and achieves a level of transcendence (?) that seems, to me, beyond B-film, beyond exploitation, beyond horror…beyond acting. It’s like: This isn’t a film “…this is really happening!”

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It is said, and I believe it to be true, that it’s a miracle any films get finished at all. After one factors in all the problems that can and do arise while making a film, it’s truly miraculous that one can even complete a film! Let alone create a masterpiece like this…

Happy Halloween…one and all!

*from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion” by Stefan Jaworzyn, an absolutely excellent source for all things TCM related.
**of course I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but I’d certainly say TCM is the best film of the second half of the 20th Century!

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From Art-House to Slaughterhouse (Week Two: Twentynine Palms)

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Countdown to Halloween: Twentynine Palms

This is Bruno Dumont’s bizarre homage to late 60s, early 70s drive-in cinema: road film-cum-horror film. It’s so unlike the bulk of Dumont’s oeuvre. Twentynine Palms is generally ignored, rarely considered or discussed even by his fans. When put beside his other work, it’s almost like a ‘forgotten film’.

We examined Claire Denis’ foray into the realm of horror with “Trouble Every Day”, her 2001 “horror film”. But, she’s not the only French filmmaker who’s recently interested in exploring these realms. I could go into the work of Gaspar Noe, for instance, but I’d say all his work is influenced by and steeped in American exploitation, genre and horror film? Recently, there seem to be a whole clique of French filmmakers who’re making films that utilize exploitation film elements. Instead, I’m more interested in these art-house filmmakers who rarely, or barely, tread in those waters. For instance, Claire Denis and the brilliant Bruno Dumont.

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Generally, Dumont’s films deal with the sublime, the transcendent and the spiritual. They exist in a halfway house, somewhere between religious and philosophical. Some even deal with religion, specifically, as their subject matter. Dumont, an avowed atheist however, seems to be drawn to and fascinated by the spiritual experience. I wouldn’t say “Twentynine Palms” does not contain any interest in this realm, but it certainly hides it more than the rest. But, “Twentynine Palms” isn’t really one of his naturally spiritual films. Instead, it seems a meditation on America. Even perhaps, an ode to American exploitation films of the “psychedelic” period-road films and shock horror specifically.

 

This interesting diminutive film, always struck a deep chord with me. I find it to be Dumont’s strangest, most peculiar work in an otherwise consistent filmography. Most viewers, I think, didn’t know what to make of this thing? It’s clearly Dumont’s least popular work, even considered a ‘failure’ by many. In my opinion, however, it’s at least as good as his next film: “Flanders”. A film that always generated far more respect because its subject matter, the current mid-east conflict, will always generate more gravitas. Whereas a sexually graphic road film wrapped round a shock-horror core, tends to be looked upon with jaundiced eye by those in the “art-house community”. A snobby group, in case ya didn’t know (no surprise to exploitation fans, I’m sure?)? But for someone like myself, who’ll view any cinematic offering from any source, these ‘politics’ are just plain annoying. In fact, another ‘secret’ is that most exploitation/horror film fans are just as snobby. Many of them are probably scoffing right now, at this discussion of a ‘foreign/art-house film’ on a page for exploitation/horror films and think me ‘pretentious’, I’m sure?

“Twentynine Palms” begins like a standard road film. A couple drive through Southern California and finally into Twentynine Palms, California. The male lead is an American photographer scouting locations, the female half is the photographer’s French girlfriend who seems to be along for the ride as; part concubine and partially to keep him from getting lonely while he scouts his locations. I can’t help but think that this may have an autobiographical element to it? I can easily see the photographer representing Dumont himself and a girlfriend or wife as they look for locations, perhaps even while scouting for this very film? It has a strong feeling of coming from some place real and personal.

At this point the film too gets literally personal. The two main leads engage in rather graphic sexual activity across various exotic locals throughout Southern California. They engage sexually at their barren motel swimming pool, inside their cheap, tawdry motel room, out of doors, on rocky formations and atop desert mesas, in their SUV, hell, Just about every place they end up for an extended period of time. Their rutting seems to reflect a better way for them to communicate with each other, since their verbal communication seems highly problematic (he speaks a little French, she hardly speaks even a little English). Perhaps Dumont is representing sex as the one way these two can more freely and easily communicate with each other? At times, it even seems like their sexual act has distinct ‘personalities’ to it; loving and gentle, as they express love to each other. At other times, when arguing and fighting with each other, their sexuality expresses ‘hatred’ and ‘anger’. It seems Dumont is showing us the transformation from verbal to physical with scenes of sexual intercourse taking the place of their lack of verbal skills.

As the sex between the couple begins to disintigrate and decline, the film takes on a more paranoid, brutal and anxious tone. It’s here the film seems to remind one most of the 70s film, “Deliverence”. There seems to be a feeling of menace, coming from without. One can feel a palpable sense of dread, that there are ‘others’, out there and that they’re (more than likely) not benevolent. Just as it’s revealed in “Deliverance”, it’s also revealed here. In fact it is revealed in a strikingly similar way. I get the feeling that, much in the way many people in America were haunted and disturbed by what can happen in the most rural areas of the south in “Deliverance”; Bruno Dumont seems to feel the same about the United States in general? I may be wrong, perhaps he’s trying to express something else entirely, but the feeling I take away from the film is one of a certain fear of location.

The ending of the film works on one’s mind in a most shocking and transgressive way. The first act of violence blindsides us, just as the proceeding act of murderous brutality does. The first act of violence makes me sense the filmmaker gets the feeling America is chock a block with utterly warrantless, random acts of violence. While the second act of violence seems to be making a comment on the effects of the first. In reality nearly all violence is random and it’s rarely, if ever, well thought out. Violence is what happens when verbal communication breaks down. Which leads me to think the film may be about break downs in communication. First, between the couple, then by the world at large and finally between individuals. I don’t see the film as an indictment of America*. Instead, it seems to summarize the fear and paranoia inherent in open and wild landscapes and the violence that comes from the inability to articulate oneself.

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*It should also be noted that Twentynine Palms, CA also happens to be the locale of a known Marine base…there may be something to that?

These Are a Few of My Favorite Films…That Never Existed (Part One: Who Killed Bambi?)

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Most people are aware of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” and, of course, Stanley Kubrick’s “Napolean”. Two films that were never made and never will be. Personally, my favorite film that was never made was 1978’s punk rock gem: Russ Meyer’s “Who Killed Bambi?”

This really begins when I was 12 or 13 I remember flip-flapping through albums at a local record store (Flipside Records) and continually being drawn to the soundtrack album to “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle”. I’d already owned “Anarchy in the Uk”, but I was strangely drawn to this album. There were photos of bizarre British ‘punks’ all over it, odd, weird people, dwarves in spiky hair, punk gals with green hair and safety pins all over and through their flesh (not to mention, a topless photo of Sue Catwoman, who I immediately crushed on and set in motion a fetish for young punk chicks for years to come!) what I remember most however, was the back of the record. It showed a color photo of an actual deer, dead, arrow pierced it’s neck, red blood smeared across the wound and in bold red Disney font the phrase: Who Killed Bambi? emblazoned above! I was in awe! Everything about the image resonated with me! The grisly real life carnage of animal death (reminding me of nothing so much as the imagery from Mondo movies) contrasted with that Disney lettering and word “Bambi”, it reminded me of the adult animation I was fixated on at the time. After deciding I’d buy this album, I brought it home, put it on the turntable and listened to the whole thing. The first “swindle” was that none of the songs were by the Sex Pistols, it was other people doing their versions of Pistols songs, or songs like “Who Killed Bambi?” by Ten Pole Tudor, which I loved (!) but were ‘technically’ not Sex Pistols songs. In fact I liked most of the songs on the album, I liked them more than most of the songs on “Anarchy in the UK” in fact. At this point I decided I HAD to see the movie! I could imagine all sorts of punk rock sex and violence and it it was more than an adolescent boy’s mind could bare! I kept wondering: how was the dead deer and “Who Killed Bambi?” going to play into this whole thing?

So, I set forth to find a copy of the film. This was not an easy film to locate. It wasn’t readily available in video stores (to those too young to know, video stores were these arcane places where you paid, like, $70-or more likely, your parents did-as collateral, along with a copy of their drivers’s license, then you could rent videos at their store. It was a kind of hostage situation. See videos, or VHS in those days, were worth, like, $99! So, obviously, the store needed to make damn sure you didn’t run away with their precious $99 piece of merchandise!) after much hunting around and talking with various people, it ended with my friend Bill (my one stop source for all things ‘punk’ AND he lived right around the corner from me!), he informed me about this thing called The Gore Gazette-a little xeroxed ‘zine that offered obscure movies-the owner of The Gore Gazette, was (I believe) related to the guy who owned Flipside Records, the store I bought the Sex Pistols soundtrack from in the beginning, see everything come’s full circle! It was through The Gore Gazette that I managed to obtain a cruddy VHS copy of the Sex Pistols’ (mostly unseen in the US) film, “The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle” (that’s what one had to do back then, kiddies, ya had to physically visit different underground and black-market outlets and seek out a copy of a copy of a copy of a foreign PAL version of what you were looking for-it was all a bit like that scene in the movie “8mm” where Nicholas Cage is trying to procure a ‘snuff film’ from a shifty Joaquin Phoenix), when I finally watched it, I was crushed! Highly disappointed! What, no dead deer? there seemed to be no reason for the song “Who Killed Bambi?” The only parts I enjoyed were some animated sequences and one where Sid Vicious (singing My Way) walks down a lit staircase, pulls out a revolver (I fetishized guns-I was 12 and a boy-duh!) and shoots these British, upper crust, bourgeois audience members. Squibs exploded with bright red blood and covered everything, being a typical ‘gore hound’, I was marginally happy with that scene. Otherwise…that’s it! Literally, the rest of the film was a giant bore! I was expecting a wild and crazy punk film, instead, it was all uninspired, clunky cinematography, dumb skits, crummy aesthetics, no sex, no violence (apart from that one scene), bad direction, shitty performances and even worse story lines! I wondered why I’d bothered, I could have stayed home, watched The Young One’s and gotten a far more clever and interesting take on what British punk rock in the late ’70s.

After this “great” and final “swindle”, I’m not sure how long, perhaps it was when I talked to the owner of Flipside about my “great” disappointment with “The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle”, when I was finally informed about the first piece to this puzzle. He told me that originally, the Sex Pistols were supposed to make a different film altogether, called “Who Killed Bambi?”, but made “The Great Rock ‘N Roll Swindle” instead…and whamo! I had a new obsession!
Who killed, “Who Killed Bambi?”?

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It was decades later when I finally cobbled enough pieces of the puzzle together and learned, as much as one could, exactly what happened to this never completed film. For me, it was a case of two different ‘obsessions’ colliding with each other.

Shortly after the incident with “The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle”, I saw a film called “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” it was directed by the master of sexploitation films, Russ Meyer. I remember when I rented it, I had to be crafty, the film was rated X. And rental houses were (kinda) strict in those days, sometimes. Well this rental house had “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” placed in the “porno” section, so there was little, to no way, we were gonna be able to rent this thing! Eventually, I was able to work out a scheme. I got my mother to rent me the film. I explained how it was not a ‘real X rated film’, it was only rated that way because of the violence. See, in my family it was perfectly acceptable to rent a film that was violent, so I could watch films like “Last House on the Left”, “Pieces” and “Three on a Meathook”, but ask to see “Porky’s” and it was “no way, José!!!”. So this was how I conned the video into my warm and clammy adolescent hands to watch with all my friends. We all loved it! It was a superb, splendid, campy, slick and sexy piece of cinematic history (with some violence too, so it wasn’t a complete lie) and we were all wondering if the screenwriter billed in the film as Roger Ebert, was THE Roger Ebert, the one we knew from TV, the movie critic we all knew as “the fat guy” and judged movies either: ‘thumbs up, or thumbs down’, we couldn’t for the life of us imagine it was the same guy (it was!). The movie would have easily generated a soft R, even then, and why on earth it was placed in the “porno” section is ‘beyond’ me! After that, I decided I was gonna see every single Russ Meyer film he ever made. Which was not an easy feat. You see how hard it was to try and rent his most accessible film? Well, imagine how hard it was gonna be to get the films he produced and distributed himself? It was extremely difficult and took many, many years. Eventually, I saw them all and became SO obsessed with Russ Meyer, I determined that he was not just one of the best sexploitation filmmakers, he was, one of the best filmmakers. Period!

So, it was, while I was wallowing in Russ Meyer’s cinematic world of giant breasts, when I became aware, readung an interview with (of all people, Malcolm McLaren) that Russ Meyer was the filmmaker who was hired to make “Who Killed Bambi?” AND (Reading Meter’s insane 1000 page autobiography!!) I learned that there was actually an opening scene that he shot! This gave me mixed feelings, it further added to my feelings of loss and regret, as now I knew for sure that this would have been a magnificent film and worse still, I’d never, ever get to see it! But, I had a new obsession, I had to see this opening scene, that supposedly existed!

Over the years, I’d pieced together small details about the film. I once even tried to ask Mr. Meyer personally, when I spoke with him at a Beyond the Valley of the Dolls 25th Anniversary Celebration, in Orlando, FL. But, I was dating a gal at the time who was, what Russ would call, “heavily cantilevered”, so all I could get from him were brief sentences like, “Who Killed Bambi would have been the best film I ever made!” (Which may have been true, but was hardly any new information) and “Malcolm McLaren was a shit heel!” (Which I also already knew, since Meyer had always maintained that the film went under because McLaren was a cheapskate, which may also have been true?) Otherwise, he was ogling the gal I was with and trying to talk to her. He didn’t give a shit about me, some ‘fan boy’, although it was fun to know that both Russ and I were vying for the affections of the same girl, for a little while anyway. Of course, I’d heard all the stories about how Meyer hated Johnny Rotten (neé John Lydon) because of Lydon’s hatred for America (Meyer was an old WWII vet, so things of that nature did not fly with him) and how Sid Vicious was gross, disgusting and impossible to deal with…but apparently Meyer got on famously with Steve Jones and Paul Cook, whom Meyer said, “wanted the American Dream!” and that was probably true? I’d also read interviews with Roger Ebert, slated to write the film (!) who said that all the Pistols, including Malcolm McLaren loved “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and would watch the film constantly, so they decided Meyer was their man! They wanted him to make their first film! Meyer had quite the cast already lined up as well, playing Sid Vicious’ mother, was to be Marianne Faithful! Can one imagine? What brilliant casting! In the infamous scene with Sid and his mother, it begins with Sid coming home and finding his mum shooting up (I think I know why Marianne jumped at the role?) and then the mother seduces her son and the two begin making love! Suddenly, right in the middle, coitus interruptus, Sid’s mum’s boyfriend catches them in the act! Cuckolded, the man tries to separate the two while being smacked at with chains, vases and Sid’s fists! It would have been quite the scandalous scene. Meyer also planned to have his friend, the man who played Darth Vader (not James Earl Jones of course) but the actual guy in the Vader suit to play the chauffeur of the aging, rich rock star called MJ (whom I later learned was to stand in for Mick Jagger and represented an the older aeon of rock) He was also in Meyer’s earlier film (the highly underrated) “Blacksnake”! Meyer, also cast the wonderfully bizarre, P.J. Proby as the Max BIalystock character, I believe? Basically, this was going to be one fantastic line up! Well, financial backing came through in dribs and drabs, but Meyer (always the fastidious work horse) already began shooting the opening scene, when (you know how things in film go?) financial backing, well, backed out! I first heard about the only available footage of the film, described by Meyer himself, in his autobiography and it’s extremely descriptive. But when I saw real scene, with my own eyes! It was magnificent, I’m convinced this would have been a film that would not have disappointed the 12 year old me, no, this was exactly the kind of film I had always envisioned.

The opening scene begins with a chauffeur driven limousine careening through the forests of some English countryside, a man called “MJ” (Mick Jagger) sits in the back of the limo, they stop at a clearing. MJ leaps from the back seat, dressed like Robin Hood, crossbow in hand. He aims, then shoots a deer. The deer lays dead, an arrow through it’s neck! This was the exact same image that drew me to the back of the “Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle” album in the first place, MJ ties the deer to the front of his limo. Drives to a small village, removes the deer and throws it at the front door of a small thatched-roof house. MJ gets back into his limo and is gone! The front door to this small house opens, out steps a 12 year old blonde girl, her hair braided in a pair of golden ponytails and dressed in a full Alpine/Heidi costume. The girl looks down and sees the dead deer lying at the foot of the door and shouts:

“Mummy, mummy…Who Killed Bambi?!!” And thats its…that’s all there is! It’s all I’ve ever seen, and it’s the best opening scene I’ve ever viewed! That little scene alone, beats the entirety of “The Great Rock an’ Roll Swindle”, to death!

“Who Killed Bambi?”‘s script reads like a film that would have been somewhere between the high camp, look and raunch of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and a punk version of Richard Lester’s “A Hard Days Night”, it could have been brilliant!

Much later, in 2010, Roger Ebert, mercifully put the script he wrote, up on his blog. I read it all in one sitting! One can, now, only imagine the brilliance that would have been “Who Killed Bambi?”

I won’t go on to describe anymore of the movie, I wouldn’t do it justice, so here’s a link to the script, and I hope you all read it!

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http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/who-killed-bambi-a-screenplay