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David Cronenberg’s Videodrome: Bad Religion

“She kissed his cheek, and the flesh against her lips felt as cold as the snowflakes at the window.”
–“Mojave” by Truman Capote, from Music for Chameleons

“And so it is “I,” the person among other persons, alone yet inseparable from the community of others, who sees as if for the first time and who reflectively comes to know the meanings that awaken in my consciousness.” – Clark Moustakas, Phenomological Research Methods, quote taken from “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles

(This contains spoilers for Videodrome, though it is very much written for those who have seen and are familiar with the movie. Given this, no attempt at a plot summary is made. There are spoilers for Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch as well. Script excerpts are taken from on-line transcripts at Script-o-rama, for Videodrome and Naked Lunch. I am indebted to The Rule of Metaphor by Paul Ricoeur, as a helpful, though often difficult, guide on the subject.)

One of the most unsettling movies I’ve ever seen. Some do not wish to attempt to examine the mysteries of why a certain film works, especially if it has this kind of memorable power, disturbing or otherwise; that this is like sealing beautiful flowing smoke in a glass. The hyptnotizing, electric flow ends with the entrapment, and there is perhaps something unfeeling as well – this kind of examination can be close to trapping insects in jars, and plucking their wings off. I know all this, and I look closer anyway1. What follows are my brief explorations of Videodrome. As with all explorations, they are unfinished.

The first thing to be looked at might be the quality so often remarked about this movie, its prescience. That it features a man who becomes obsessed with a virtual reality, to the point that he can no longer distinguish between the real and his hallucinations, this all is taken as an anticipation of our internet dominated lives, now. Properly placed, Videodrome is not a prediction, but simply a reiteration of past themes. Cronenberg himself would dismiss the idea of a conscious, intentional attempt at augury in many places, among them his introduction to a showing of the film in 2009, “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 1:30-3:00 in the clip):

The movie has been seen as being quite prophetic, as you mentioned, of everything from the internet to virtual reality, to interactive television and so on, I suppose you could say, “Did I anticipate all of that stuff?” and I suppose I could say, “Yeah.” But so what? Because nothing happens as a result of that. I wasn’t really trying to be prophetic. I was trying to…when you, if you’re an artist, all you’ve got, that might be unique, are the antenna that you have, that are sensitive to things that are in the air, that are around, that perhaps other people are not sensitive, as sensitive to, for whatever reason. And so I think that was what I was really doing then. Because there is a character in this movie [Brian O’Blivion] who is modeled after Marshall McLuhan, and he was certainly around the University of Toronto when I was there. And his thoughts, and his presence, and his prophecies, which were quite astonishingly accurate, I must say, so for me to…I was really trying to…to distill something of the zeitgeist of the time, I suppose, and also make something that was entertaining and sexy and perverse, I think. And you’ll let me know if I did that or not.

The director would again dismiss the possibility, as well as explain the genesis of the movie in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” (15:55-17:42 in the clip):

CRONENBERG
Videodrome really came from the limitations of television at the time. Which was, I remember as a child, we had an antenna that would rotate, to pick up, each station needed the antenna to rotate to get the best image. So, you’d be watching your TV set, rotating the image, and seeing it come into focus in a way. And sometimes, when the major…this is something else that people don’t think of. It wasn’t twenty four hour a day television. It was…at eleven o’clock, eleven thirty, television was finished. Until the morning. You didn’t go all night. After all the television stations had shut down, you could sometimes pick up some strange signals, from…now, in Toronto it would be mostly from America, maybe Buffalo. Maybe from New York. Maybe from Detroit. And those signals were very weak, but you could pick them up late at night. And you would see things, but it would never be clear. And you wouldn’t know what you were watching. And it was very mysterious. And sometimes very disturbing. And very intriguing. And so I used that experience with Videodrome. In other words, old technology at the time. I even have scenes of a satellite dish, and so on, but of course when I was doing it, it was an antenna, not a satellite dish. There were no satellites. And it was just that idea of picking up a mysterious, forbidden signal. That somehow you had access to, via accident. And that’s really what it had to do with. Videodrome.

INTERVIEWER
This idea of a hidden channel, is something very relevant, powerful, even today. [CRONENBERG: Yes.] When you think of the internet [CRONENBERG: Yes.], this darknet, there always seems to be a place where people are hoping to find something forbidden, or…

CRONENBERG
Yes. That’s actually true, and it’s why people sometimes think Videodrome is anticipating the internet, of course I wasn’t really thinking about it, but it’s true that some of the things that I was playing with, which is to say interactive television, television that would respond directly to you, was, is, in a sense, an anticipation of something…that has become the internet. Really. So, it hasn’t changed, and yes, there are some very forbidden…imagery and videos on the internet which….I mean, it’s quite extraordinary that the police could come to your house and discover that you had downloaded some images and arrest you and put you in jail for a long time. Mostly, child pornography and so on. But…that’s an extraordinary thought. That the images condemn you, immediately. And that, even though you just sat in your room and clicked to access them. But you were condemned by doing that. That’s extraordinary.

One should note the key element in the TV signals picked up from across the border, and that is the lack of control. The TV signal is described as “mysterious, forbidden”, a transmission where “you wouldn’t know what you were watching”. We have perhaps the exact inverse of the contemporary internet, which is defined by the search engine google, along with content filters like facebook and twitter, whose orderly and authoritative results arguably disciplined a wild and unruly place. Whereas the Videodrome signal is something like an unnamed ghostland, unknown and invisible to all atlases. It exists as a result of technology, and yet it also has the qualities of a hallucinatory vision which might seize a character, and whose meaning they must decipher, whether it has an implication for the here and now, or a portent of the future. This, of course, is a near exact description of the visions of another movie, which resemble old TV transmissions, the transmitted warnings of Prince of Darkness.

John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness - We are transmitting - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/AdoredDeadlyIbisbill

Given that Videodrome is seen as a prescient vision, it might be useful to look at someone else from the very same time whose work is seen as predicting the internet, though that was not his intent, either. This would be the writer William Gibson, and his book Neuromancer, published only a year after Videodrome‘s release. I do not link the two out of any intent to make kleptic accusations; I think Gibson himself properly answers why you might have a similar focus in the movies and books of the time in “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211”:

There’s an idea in the science-fiction community called steam-engine time, which is what people call it when suddenly twenty or thirty different writers produce stories about the same idea. It’s called steam-engine time ­because nobody knows why the steam engine happened when it did. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors. It just never occurred to them to do it. When I came up with my cyberspace idea, I thought, I bet it’s steam-engine time for this one, because I can’t be the only person noticing these various things. And I wasn’t. I was just the first person who put it together in that particular way, and I had a logo for it, I had my neologism.

The neologism, the one Gibson put together, was cyberspace, before there was anything substantial outside of his fictional world that the name could be applied to. In this same interview, Gibson mentions his strongest influences: “William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon.” He gives special mention to Burroughs and Naked Lunch, describing it as a kind of science fiction without being hidebound to the traditions of the genre2. Lunch has been named by Cronenberg as his favorite book, and he, of course, took on the Sissyphean task of making it into a movie. Again, however, we are not speaking of A simply leading to B. “One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” says Cronenberg at the time of the Lunch movie’s release. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.”3 Our thoughts slowly congeal into a metaphor, and we see elsewhere the public expression of someone else’s thoughts in similar metaphors. Lunch‘s Interzone is the unruly mix of many peoples where fantasy is unleashed; Neuromancer separates these two worlds with the vast crowd of the Sprawl, several interconnected North American cities – and the unrestricted virtual life of its cyberspace, the Matrix (a term native to this book and not the later movie series)4; Videodrome takes place in the interethnic mix of Toronto with a hero whose business is buying and selling pornography, and where its virtual fantasyland shares the movie’s title.

This is how I see Videodrome: as a partial expression of the themes of Naked Lunch, but one that is ultimately truer to the book than the actual movie adaptation. Though Lunch is often taken as surreal nonsense, with no connection to the actual, I think it is very obviously an attempt to express the author’s life experience, specifically his drug experience and his queer life, and the truest method of expression would be through often hallucinatory imagery. Burroughs had little involvement with hallucinogens, and the images of Lunch do not feel like any attempt at reproducing the experiences of such drugs, but at conveying a specific physical and emotional sense. A gay man, a drug user of the time must have felt like a hunted man, and so the protagonist of Lunch is someone literally hunted: a man wanted by cops who is also an undercover spy. The images are unreal, but not without purpose. The repulsive figures of the Mugwumps and Reptiles are visions of the addict himself, his flesh in a state of accelerated decay, his body deforming into something others consider monstrous, and about which he is indifferent:

On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients. These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. (In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life.) Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear. The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to Reptiles.

During the biennial Panics when the raw, peeled Dream Police storm the City the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles, and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.

The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out.

The air is once again still and clear as glycerine.

The Sailor spotted his Reptile. He drifted over and ordered a green syrup. The Reptile had a little, round disk mouth of brown gristle, expressionless green eyes almost covered by a thin membrane of eyelid. The Sailor waited an hour before the creature picked up his presence.

It is perhaps helpful to look at this imagery next to that of the excellent memoir of addiction, White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael Clune. Though the book goes through the expected arc of such experience – introduction, addiction, descent, and many attempts at recovery of a pre-addicted life – it never falls into the monotony of detailing the endless days of addiction as if such dull accounting is charged with interest to the outsider, but effectively conveys this difficult life through often surreal images. This imagery never suggests an affect, an attempt at novelty, or simple writing games, but an honest relating of the addict’s inner life, so involved in inner twistings as to often break from reality. We have it in early description of a dealer:

In that bare front room at Dominic’s there is a trembling joy in the air. The thick sun of June gets trapped, pools, and grows cloudy. Proto-organisms form in the cloud of wood-color, heat, and sheet-light. I’m full of angels who fasten their lips and wings and hands to Dominic’s body, until he looks like a beach a thick flock of seagulls has landed on. By the time we get to the kitchen he doesn’t even look human.

We have it in this monologue about invisible spirits and creatures as a junkie injects, as intricate and solid a world as that imagined in Lunch:

He held the syringe before all of us. I could never have afforded a shot like that. It should have been in a museum. “Inducing the creature,” he said softly. He felt expertly along his neck till he found the pulsing vein. There was a black tattoo of a cross running down his neck and the vein pulsed along the cross. He slid in the needle and pressed down on the syringe.

“The creature is induced to crawl. Induced to walk. Induced to beg. To soil itself or not to soil itself. The sin is not the inducement. That’s what those old Christians in the joint never understood.”

“The sin is not the inducement,” Fathead continued. “That He may raise up the Lord casts down. Even unto the pit. This shit we think we’re doing here.” He laughed. “Another eye burns in our eye, another hand reaches through our hand. This,” he held up his thick, needle-scarred hand, “this is a glove.” He gazed thickly on it. “An abode for any spirit of the air. Every unrighteous and unclean spirit.”

“And that’s what God is,” Fathead said. “When the creature is induced to crawl out of the creature. I’ve seen it myself. The whatever leaving his eyes, ‘dying.’ Crawling into the invisible world. A thousand spirits curled up in a spoon. You should see the spirit leaving a man’s face; you can feel the room get thicker. I’ve done it myself. I’ll do it again.”

It is there in the sequence where Clune creates for himself a fictional refuge as he tries to stop using, a refuge which cannot contain the piercing cold, and this imagined sanctuary conveys better than any simple physical details the deeply frightening sense of naked vulnerability when trying to kick the drug:

That first night of kicking, I imagined I was living in a castle. A blizzard was raging outside. I’d been trudging though the blizzard, carrying my sword and shield, fleeing the enemy. I knocked on the massive oak door of the castle. I heard the slow sound of the bar being raised and the door swinging open. The friendly warmth rushed out, strong friendly hands pulled me, fainting, inside.

“You must be exhausted,” said a tall, handsome man in chain mail. “Well, everything is going to be fine. We have everything you need in this castle. The walls are strong; the enemy will never get in. And we have enough supplies to last for years in here.” I nodded and tried to smile.

They showed me to a room high in the walls. A big fire roared in the fireplace. A clean, white bed piled deep with cushions lay in the corner. I stood for several minutes gazing at it. I repeated the contents of this room in the castle over and over to myself. I was shivering terribly.

“They have hundreds of soldiers to protect me in this castle. The blizzard rages outside. It is warm and safe and deep inside the castle. I’ll fall asleep now.” But the shivering cold came through the thick castle walls. They had to move me deeper inside the castle, where I’d be warm.

They had to move me again. Deep in the castle’s heart, to a windowless room, with an ancient glowing furnace and a fire burning in the fireplace. They’d never heard of drugs. I heard hundreds of soldiers rushing in the corridors.

“They’re going to their battle stations.” I invented the name of the enemy. The history of the country. The names of the people in the castle army. “Henry Abelove, Lieutenant.” I counted their weapons. Lieutenant Abelove led me on a tour of their supplies and armaments.

But something was missing. Despite the plentiful stores of food, everyone in the castle looked starved and crazy. Despite the vast fires, the huge furnaces, the halls piled high with entire felled forests, I could not stop shivering.

“There is no sleep in this castle,” Lieutenant Abelove said sadly.

“But,” I said, “I thought that one first enters the castle, and then passes through into sleep.” He shook his head.

“This entire structure is built along the wall of sleep, but at no point does it penetrate it.” I tried to follow his words.

“Can’t we use some of these weapons, some of this fuel to break through?” He shook his head sadly. I tried to stop thinking about the castle.

Naked Lunch is a book that is unremitting in its nihilism, though at the same time full of cheerful laughter. We are lecherous, we are wicked, we are cruel; virtue and good works will not save us from suffering and painful death, both of which can be very funny to a passerby. The outlook might be that of someone fallen to the bottom of the pit, at a dead end bar, laughing at the fellow cripples alongside him. The humor is not that of a superior type looking down, or the cheerless kind of someone pining for some lost paradise and wanting to bring it back, but of a writer deep in muck who has no inclination to leave it. The landscape is unsettling – though not a Nowhereland, but very much America. New York City is life-like, and so is the book’s Missouri, filled with American types:

He stands up screaming and black blood spurts solid from his last erection, a pale white statue standing there, as if he had stepped whole across the Great Fence, climbed it innocent and calm as a boy climbs the fence to fish in the forbidden pond-in a few seconds he catches a huge catfish-The Old Man will rush out of a little black hut cursing, with a pitchfork, and the boy runs laughing across the Missouri field-he finds a beautiful pink arrowhead and snatches it up as he runs with a flowing swoop of young bone and muscle-(his bones blend into the field, he lies dead by the wooden fence a shotgun by his side, blood on frozen red clay seeps into the winter stubble of Georgia) . . . The catfish billows out behind him . . . He comes to the fence and throws the catfish over into blood-streaked grass . . . the fish lies squirming and squawking-vaults the fence. He snatches up the catfish and disappears up a flint-studded red clay road between oaks and persimmons dropping red-brown leaves in a windy fall sunset, green and dripping in summer dawn, black against a clear winter day . . . the Old Man screams curses after him . . . his teeth fly from his mouth and whistle over the boy’s head, he strains forward, his neck-cords tight as steel hoops, black blood spurts in one solid piece over the fence and he falls a fleshless mummy by the fever grass. Thorns grow through his ribs, the windows break in his hut, dusty glass-slivers in black putty-rats run over the floor and boys jack off in the dark musty bedroom on summer afternoons and eat the berries that grow from his body and bones, mouths smeared with purple-red juices . . .

By rooting the book so solidly in the United States, rather than create a separate new universe of obscenity, it makes clear that its world – of drugs, queerness, and nihilism – is a part of America and always has been. “American humor is a really angry rube humor,” a point made by Michael O’Donoghue, insightful observer and comedy legend. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”5

The movie adaptation junks this nihilism, and junks the mean-spirited laughter. One example: a story about becoming consumed by one’s own asshole, which might be about the junkie’s physical sense of self-destruction, but is most definitely a nasty joke, is given in the movie a portentous setting of a dark highway, as if there were some deep meaning at its heart, and the deep meaning were its purpose. We might look at the original story in the novel, told there by Dr. Benway, and immediately hear the distinction in the lively patter which might remind one of Lenny Bruce, or other comedians of the time:

BENWAY: “Why not one all-purpose blob? Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down you dig farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard.

“This ass talk had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose? Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.

“This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called ‘The Better ‘Ole’ that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it but it was clever. Like, ‘Oh I say, are you still down there, old thing?’

“‘Nah! I had to go relieve myself.’

“After a while the ass started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib and toss the gags back at him every time.

“Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy incurving hooks and started eating. He thought this was cute at first and built an act around it, but the asshole would eat its way through his pants and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags nobody loved it and it wanted to be kissed same as any other mouth. Finally it talked all the time day and night, you could hear him for blocks screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it, but nothing did any good and the asshole said to him: ‘It’s you who will shut up in the end. Not me. Because we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk and eat and shit.’

“After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call un-D.T., Undifferentiated Tissue, which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly and grow there, grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell. So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have amputated spontaneous-(did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa and only among Negroes where the little toe amputates spontaneously?)-except for the eyes, you dig. That’s one thing the asshole couldn’t do was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophied so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. It was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For a while you could see the silent, helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eye on the end of a stalk.”

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The movie has a tragedy in its first act, and this tragedy is its narrative heart, a re-play of Burroughs killing his own wife when he tried to shoot a glass on top of her head, and missed. This is all played sincerely, the protagonist even shedding tears, whereas an event like this in Naked Lunch, the book, would be played as a Buster Keaton pratfall. The tragedy pushes Bill Lee (Burroughs himself, for all intents and purposes) away from New York City (a very ersatz one, compared to the very real one of the book) and his fellow writers (a barely disguised Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg), to the mysterious Interzone. The book’s Interzone is very obviously the Tangier that Burroughs stayed in, full of spies, thieves, and disreputable characters; the paranoid scenes of the book are an attempt at capturing the paranoid setting6. The movie’s Interzone has vague references to the middle east, but is another place entirely, of the imagination, the prevalent spies a seemingly arbitrary feature. There, Bill Lee meets a couple who are Paul and Jane Bowles, but given the names Paul and Joan Frost. This Joan is somehow a reborn version of the other Joan, Joan Lee, the dead wife. There is the suggestion that somehow Bill Lee must overcome his inhibitions about his own queerness, and that this will lead to finally becoming an accomplished writer. The movie hints that Bill killing Joan was an unconscious expression of a desire to rid himself of his female mate, in a conversation with the gay Paul Frost: “They say you murdered your wife,” says Paul Frost. “It wasn’t murder. It was an accident,” replies Bill Lee. “There are no accidents. For example…I’ve been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years,” Frost replies. “Well, not intentionally. I mean, on the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous,” Frost adds. “We appreciate,” says a typewriter agent, “that you might find the thought of engaging in, uh, homosexual acts, morally and, uh, possibly even…physically repulsive.” Bill Lee himself speaks of the dread he feels about his own identity: “I shall never forget the unspeakable horror that froze the lymph in my glands, when the baneful word seared my reeling brain. I…was a homosexual. I thought of the painted, simpering female impersonators I had seen in a Baltimore nightclub. Could it be possible I was one of those subhuman things?” This also shows up as an unfinished phrase in his typewriter, with one word made ominous through its absence: queer.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

“Hank”, also known as Jack Kerouac, and “Martin”, also known as Allen Ginsberg.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

“Paul and Joan Frost”, also known as Paul and Jane Bowles.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

Taken from the real life adventures of William and Joan Burroughs.

“Are you a faggot?”, asks a young man who wants to pick up Bill. “Not by nature, no. I’m not. I wouldn’t say…faggot. No.” The young man wears a centipede on a chain, and when Lee picks up a centipede body at the marktet, he has a slow realization of dramatic revulsion. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” says the young man. “He specializes in sexual ambiguity.” Lee is introduced to the Mugwump, whose head, covered in phallic tubes that spit jism, also changes into a typewriter. Both with the various typewriters and elsewhere, we have a theme of hermaphrodite sex, Lee’s aversion to queerness ovecome as the male blends into the female. Bill carresses with powder the sensual orifice of a typewriter. Bill sits with Joan as she types away, the typewriter transforming into a mixed gendered beast turned on by the erotic story Joan is typing. Bill and Joan have sex, and this same mixed gender beast joins in. Joan’s domineering female housekeeper, Fadela, is also her lover, a woman who actually turns out to be a man underneath, Dr. Benway. Bill first accepts, and is then repulsed anew by his own sexual identity: he finally sleeps with an Interzone double of the young man who propositioned him, and right after he is given a nightmare vision of queer life, a monstrous decadent piercing the same boy like a captured animal. In this movie with such a heavy debt to Burroughs’ own life, that Lee ends in a state of revulsion at queer sex is perhaps supposed to explain the frightening, malevolent sex of Burroughs’ books. Bill Lee gets Joan Frost back, ransoming her with the Mugwump’s head, the creature of sexual ambivalence. Lee leaves Interzone for Annexia with this new Joan Lee, who must die again before he can cross over to the new country. Her death is unavoidable, an experience that the writer will annex for his own books, and the moment she dies, Lee is given entrance. All this – the idea of the tragic, the necessity of confronting the tragic in your writing, along with the idea of queer life as an issue – is alien to the wiseacre universe of Naked Lunch, the novel.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

Videodrome lacks the humor of Lunch, the novel, but it does have the book’s nihilism. At no point does it seem that there ever was a right choice for Max Renn to make, to avoid this increasingly strange and dangerous world. The two factions of Videodrome, headed by Barry Convex and Bianca O’Blivion, seem both equally unsympathetic – though Convex takes a slight lead in malice. Neither offer salvation or safety from the bleakness. Where Lunch the movie is set in a phantom New York City, Videodrome takes place in a very real, squalid, unpolished Toronto, and placing the exotic horror in a specific place makes its fearsome effects more acute: this is really happening. “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto,” said Roberto Benigni to Cronenberg, several years after Videodrome‘s release. “Because all I knew of it was from your films.”7

There are several points in Videodrome where, if we’re looking, we might see similarities to Naked Lunch, the book, but these are in terms of broad concept, rather than anything borrowed for the movie’s distinct and memorable imagery. The book tells us of the Senders, who are able to practice a kind of devastating mind control comparable to the way Max is manipulated by the rival parties of Videodrome. Overusing this form of telepathic control transforms the Sender into a centipede8 and there is a brief moment in Lunch when a man’s flesh drips away as green ooze, revealing a massive centipede underneath; Barry Convex is shot, and it’s as if something primordial emerges from within his dying body9. A character pulls a black furred egg from inside a boy, an alien object taken out, just like Barry Convex inserting a videotape into Max10. Lunch‘s Interzone is a place of unrestrained sadomasochistic fantasy, just like the virtual torture chamber of Videodrome11. The book ends with Bill Lee shooting two detectives that are hunting him, and then escaping off into the unknown, somewhere outside time and space. This might bear a passing resemblance to the killing spree of Renn, which climaxes in his leaving for a different kind of unknown12.

Were I to begin to try and get at the source of this movie’s power, I would say that it lies with the movie’s visual metaphors lacking anything like a structure, didactic or otherwise, which defines them. The context of Naked Lunch, the movie, gives a strong definition to its own metaphors. The creature of mixed genitalia that entangles itself with Bill Lee and Joan Frost, the typewriters with sensual openings, the jism spitting creature of sexual ambivalence, the Mugwump, are all part of the theme of a man unwilling to admit some aspect of his sexual identity, who is unable to admit to his complicity in his wife’s death, and who must try to admit to both in order to become a great writer. The metaphors of Videodrome may well be equally didactic, but lacking anything like the rigid surrounding organization, their power and mystery is enhanced.

For example, the metaphor, “my love for you is a rose bush in flames,” whatever its many flaws, is ambiguous in meaning without setting. Is this love like a holy one, a holy love profaned, a great love destroyed, or one so intense that it must be ephemeral? If this line is placed in the context of a short story about a man discovering his wife having an affair, the line is reduced to a singular meaning: our great sacred love is now destroyed. The metaphors of Videodrome may well lend themselves to didactic readings, but the story offers no direction one way or the other. I find this sense of stepping into something uncertain is there at the movie’s very beginning when Bridey James wakes Renn from sleep:

ANNOUNCER
Civic TV, the one you take to bed with you.

BRIDEY JAMES
Max, it’s that time again. Time to slowly, painfully ease yourself back into consciousness. No, I’m not a dream, although I’ve been told I’m a vision of loveliness. I’m your faithful girl Friday, Bridey James, here with your wake-up call of today, Wednesday the 23rd. You got that? Wednesday the 23rd.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

I always hear ease yourself back into consciousness as having a slight air of menace, as if Bridey knows of the dreamworld that is soon to come, and you can wonder to what extent she’s a conspirator with the other players in what comes next. Bridey has this ambiguity because like all the other characters in the movie, there really is no character there. They do what’s necessary for the plot and provide exposition, but do not have much more substance than that. Nicki Brand is an enigma of unreconciled elements. She hosts the “Emotional Rescue Show” (“You want help. You need help.”), and she’s clear that she thinks Renn’s movies are dangerous, “We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad” Yet her first words at Max’s are, “Got any pornos?” She always wants more as well, a needle through the ear, a cigarette burned in her breast, and finally giving it all up to live her dream to be on Videodrome. An actual character might give an intuitive coherence to these polarities, but she does not. Brian and Bianca O’Blivion are the movie’s only guides to the hallucinatory technology, and they may be villains as well – but that is left entirely to us. There is nothing in their character that implies one thing or the other, and we might read what we want.

The metaphors of the movie, as said, could be read in the simplest terms, of movies transforming men and women into the ideals of their gender. The identification with these ideals, our approaching these ideals, gives us a sense of power, yet ultimately we are submissives, submitting to media, whose ability to reproduce and distribute images throughout the world can be thought of as a near divine power. Nicki is submissive, longs to play a role where she’s constantly submissive, and she disappears to be an image, though it’s as an image she becomes dominant. We see her choke O’Blivion to death, and we see her take over Renn’s video system, where she entices Max to bury himself within her. This last, where he sticks his head inside the tumescent screen of her lips, doesn’t suggest male penetration so much as male surrender. Max becomes the movie ideal of his own gender, a man with a gun, and yet it’s also a position without power or choice. The gun seals itself to his hand, and he becomes only one thing, an assassin, just as Nicki becomes only one thing, an image. He kills at the command of others, for their reasons, first his work associates and then Barry Convex. The gun should be a symbol of dominance, and yet he’s only submitting to the commands of someone else. Before the gun melds to his hand, it first sinks into the genital crevasse of his stomach, the same place where the tapes are inserted that give him his kill orders. “When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit,” James Woods would say to Debbie Harry during production. “Now you know what it feels like,” she replied13.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max and the TV - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/PalatableLongKiwi

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The newspaper story featured in the corner of this still is its own separate epic, detailing the adventures of rogue CIA agent Ed Wilson, who would sell weapons to Qaddafi in 1981. The Times story featured here is “Records show Wilson made millions on C.I.A. Experience”; this site early on reviewed Peter Maas’s excellent book on the subject in the post “A Libyan Footnote, The Sorry Tale of Edwin Paul Wilson, or: Manhunt – The Incredible Pursuit of a CIA Agent Turned Terrorist (Peter Maas)”.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max gets his programming - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/SecretPoisedCockatoo

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

This, I think, is a credible reading, but one without certainty. There is nothing in the surrounding plot or characters to push us towards this reading, only our own experience and the suggestibility of the metaphors themselves. There is something of the unconscious in the movie – “the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another,” Keith Phipps wrote in an excellent discussion of the film14. We might compare it to another movie of the unconscious, seemingly untainted by rule-making or restriction, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Here, we are also given images in which a great deal can be read, whether it’s Sandy staring at Jeffrey with newfound fear on the way to Dorothy’s, the sensual mouth of Dorothy open with pleasure and holding a chipped tooth, a crippled mute father, a woman commanding a boy for sex, an abusive man dominating a woman who call each other mommy and daddy, etc. There is something beguiling in what is unseen in Velvet, that we’re never given the full truth of the conspiracy between the Booth gang and the police department, and that there’s something to the characters of Sandy and Dorothy that remains unknown.

This makes sense as part of the movie’s perspective, of an adolescent boy who has just touched on the world’s secrets, and will only know more of them much later. The characters of Dorothy and Sandy may not be fully seen, but they are full characters, with what we do see hinting at what’s beneath. Though Blue Velvet may be dream-like, it at least gives us some context for these images, connecting them to sex and sexual roles. The father’s physical decline pushes the son into the role of an adult, at the same time that he moves into the frightening and alluring world of sex beneath happy domesticity. Sandy is drawn to Jeffrey, and she might be drawn to him because he’s a detective, because he’s a pervert, or because he’s both. He wants to play the role of a hero and help Dorothy, but he wants to play the role of Frank as well, and hurt her. He wants to be with Sandy the way he’s with Dorothy, and Sandy wants that as well. The movie gives us this context for these images, so they undulate around a specific possible meaning, without ever becoming head smackingly specific: the secret revelation of Blue Velvet is not that Jeffrey’s father abuses his mother, or anything else of tangible fact. There are no secret revelations, only endless dreams.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

We are given a context, in the characters and story of Blue Velvet, through which we might see these images, where we are given nothing comparable in Videodrome. There is nothing equal to those characters, which are not hidden, but seemingly not there at all, letting us, say, read as much mystery as we want in Bridey’s opening lines. Velvet allows us to reduce its images to a possible haze of meaning, while Videodrome gives us no such net. We are left with only the limits inherent in the images themselves, a vaginal gulf erupting in a man’s stomach, a gun falling within, and the gun grafting itself to his hand. The metaphors imply ideas that are not foreign to us, though the images themselves are alien. In a book with a realistic setting, these images would be acceptable similes, with obvious meanings of longing and violence. You are like the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am like the gun from which a man extends. I feel like TV is killing me. In Videodrome, these similes become metaphors that the characters inhabit. You are the lips on the TV screen in which I bury myself. I am the gun from which a man extends. TV is killing me.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - TV turns into a gun - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/BruisedFlatImpala

I have attempted to use Naked Lunch as a helpful prism through which to see Videodrome, as images that are not unprecedented or some discrete island, but a set of metaphors kindred to Lunch, both of which find more felicitous expression in the fantastic than the literal. The other helpful perspective, which I don’t think is mentioned often enough, is to see Videodrome through the lens of faith. Max Renn lives in a squalid, decaying city trafficing in a product that has value but no substance, and little or no utility. Capitalism is decadent, his city is in decline, like Rome’s, and here we have an interesting setting for his introduction to the mysteries of Videodrome. It is Masha who leads Renn to the O’Blivions, and in her first scene, she sells him a video of a roman orgy, Apollo And Dionysus (the gods are greek, but it looks very much like a roman bacchanal), and the second opens with a dancer and a restaurant, both clearly in a faux oriental style15. We might see here references to the two capitals of a past empire, Rome and Byzantium, before the arrival of a new creed. Where do we find the O’Blivions? At The Cathode Ray Mission, where they evangelize the poor and abandoned, just as any church might. Max: “You think TV can help them?” Bianca: “Watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.”

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

A book I found very useful for looking at this movie in this light is Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, an attempt to find the essential underlying forms of religion by investigating the religious life of the tribes of Austrlia and North America. How much of its scholarship has been superceded by later efforts I am uncertain; I have found it a valuable source of insight whatever was published afterwards. The book’s description of how the concept of a soul may have come about is especially striking:

In order to find the elementary form of the religious life in these animistic beliefs and practices, three desiderata must be satisfied: first, since according to this hypothesis, the idea of the soul is the cardinal idea of religion, it must be shown how this is formed without taking any of its elements from an anterior religion; secondly, it must be made clear how souls become the object of a cult and are transformed into spirits; and thirdly and finally, since the cult of these spirits is not all of any religion, it remains to be explained how the cult of nature is derived from it.

According to this theory, the idea of the soul was first suggested to men by the badly understood spectacle of the double life they ordinarily lead, on the one hand, when awake, on the other, when asleep. In fact, for the savage, the mental representations which he has while awake and those of his dreams are said to be of the same value: he objectifies the second like the first, that is to say, that he sees in them the images of external objects whose appearance they more or less accurately reproduce. So when he dreams that he has visited a distant country, he believes that he really was there. But he could not have gone there, unless two beings exist within him: the one, his body, which has remained lying on the ground and which he finds in the same position on awakening; the other, during this time, has travelled through space. Similarly, if he seems to talk with one of his companions who he knows was really at a distance, he concludes that the other also is composed of two beings: one which sleeps at a distance, and another which has come to manifest himself by means of the dream. From these repeated experiences, he little by little arrives at the idea that each of us has a double, another self, which in determined conditions has the power of leaving the organism where it resides and of going roaming at a distance.

Of course, this double reproduces all the essential traits of the perceptible being which serves it as external covering; but at the same time it is distinguished from this by many characteristics. It is more active, since it can cover vast distances in an instant. It is more malleable and plastic; for, to leave the body, it must pass out by its apertures, especially the mouth and nose. It is represented as made of matter, undoubtedly, but of a matter much more subtile and etherial than any which we know empirically. This double is the soul. In fact, it cannot be doubted that in numerous societies the soul has been conceived in the image of the body; it is believed that it reproduces even the accidental deformities such as those resulting from wounds or mutilations.

This idea of a double, exactly like us but enhanced in some traits, comes to us from a century old book, and yet it describes well the avatars people have in videogames, and the proxies they seek out in movies and TV. The ability for men or women to identify with a particular actor is often considered essential to the actor’s success, for the audience to be able to see themselves as this person and live vicariously through them, on-screen and off. Hollywood is called the dream factory, and celebrity life is often thought of as dream-like, with the on-going question of how “real” it is. In one disturbing moment, Max slaps Bridey, but he’s actually slapping Nicki, but no – he’s not slapping anybody at all. Here, and elsewhere, we have something not unlike when we find ourselves in a very real-like dream, only to act, and to find ourselves awake. We also have the worry that long precedes any concerns about violence in videogames and movies, about whether the subconscious brutality and sex that emerges in our dreams is something dangerous.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - Max slaps Nicki, then Max slaps Bridey - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/MagnificentYawningHeifer

We might also find something insightful in its description of the ways in which animist beliefs arose, which might apply to the imagery of the movie:

Since the first beings of which the child commences to have an idea are men, that is, himself and those around him, it is upon this model of human nature that he tends to think of everything. The toys with which he plays, or the objects of every sort which affect his senses, he regards as living beings like himself. Now the primitive thinks like a child. Consequently, he also is inclined to endow all things, even inanimate ones, with a nature analogous to his own.

The world of Max Renn is one where objects take on a kindred human sensibility; he is transformed by the Videodrome signal, and these objects are as well. He imagines himself slapping Nicki, whipping a TV carrying her image, he is moved to sexual ecstasy by the masochism of Nicki and the idea of sexual violence. The tape’s pockets stick out like teeth, eager to bite, with the same appetite for violence as Max, his TV swells with a veined tumescence, turned on by the image of Nicki. The child transposes his feelings on his toys, and Max sees his essence animating his objects as well.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - tape that bites - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/ZestyUnevenArrowana

David Cronenberg's Videodrome - TV comes alive - URL if gif doesn't load: http://gfycat.com/UnacceptableSecondhandHog

Brian O’Blivion is a leader in this new faith, and his explanation of how he acquired his gift of sight suggest something like the paradox of god and the first cause. The universe requires a first cause, which is god, and that in turn brings up what was the first cause of god, where we might say the divine is its own first cause, or that cause and effect breaks down in the field of the divine, or some other solution. Brian O’Blivion, we are told, helped create Videodrome, after which he was killed by his fellow creators:

BIANCA
My father helped to create Videodrome. He saw it as part of the evolution of man as a technological animal. When he realised what his partners were going to use it for, he tried to take it away from them and they killed him, quietly.

Yet at the same time, the very hallucinations of Videodrome create it:

BRIAN
I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour, it was called Videodrome.

We have a phenomenon, that like the divine, is its own first cause, and where orderly cause and effect disappear. Brian O’Blivion is dead, but his words continue to guide the living. “This is him. This is all that’s left,” Bianca says, pointing to shelves and shelves of tapes. He is seemingly dead, but he isn’t. Max: “But he was on that panel show.” Bianca: “On tape. He made thousands of them, sometimes three or four a day. I keep him alive as best I can. He had so much to offer.” Again, this might be seen as something strange and new, when it is simply a transposition of a tradition common to any religious faith, where adherents consult the words of beings of the past, no longer on earth, but who have prescription, guidance, or wisdom for every occasion, whether they be Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, or another.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The conflict between the O’Blivions and Barry Convex might be seen as that between different schisms of the same faith, with the O’Blivions wanting to achieve transcendence through the creed, while Convex wishes to use the creed for practical ends, as a force to shape a hard nationalist ethos.

HARLAN
North America is getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going to have to be pure and direct… and strong…if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this…cesspool you call a television station…and your people who wallow around in it and your viewers… who watch you do it…you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.

This is a movie where the villain runs Spectacular Optical, a business that sells glasses, and the villain is named Barry Convex; a convex lens is one that focues light to a particular point. He wishes to use this new religion as a directed force, while the goals of the O’Blivions are separate from any state or any earthly purpose. Convex is killed during the presentation of his new Medici line, and perhaps the name is not idly chosen. The Medicis, as most know, would come into conflict with the fanatic Savonarola, who wished to reform the catholic church which had close ties to the merchant family. We might see the fight between Convex, who wishes to use the creed for secular objectives, and the O’Blivions, who see the faith as an end in itself, as echoing this old division between the Medicis and the zealot.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The O’Blivions genuinely wish that people achieve a final stage, the new flesh, which Max attempts in the movie’s ending. We have here another similarity with religion, where the apotheosis of faith is considered the abandonment of flesh itself. Durkheim touches on this phenomenon as well, when discussing the shared trait of all religions of keeping separate the profane and sacred worlds. The most dedicated of the faith attempt to avoid the profane as much as possible, with the most extreme answer the avoidance of all profanities of the flesh by forsaking it completely through suicide:

The two worlds are not only conceived of as separate, but as even hostile and jealous rivals of each other. Since men cannot fully belong to one except on condition of leaving the other completely, they are exhorted to withdraw themselves completely from the profane world, in order to lead an exclusively religious life. Hence comes the monasticism which is artificially organized outside of and apart from the natural environment in which the ordinary man leads the life of this world, in a different one, closed to the first, and nearly its contrary. Hence comes the mystic asceticism whose object is to root out from man all the attachment for the profane world that remains in him. From that come all the forms of religious suicide, the logical working-out of this asceticism; for the only manner of fully escaping the profane life is, after all, to forsake all life.

There are many examples of this, but I turn to one of the more well-known of recent ones, when thirty nine members of the Heaven’s Gate cult peacefully committed suicide. This was not considered by them a rejection of life, but an attempt at a kind of space travel, which required them to leave their physical bodies. “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level,” says one of the women who died16. The “next level” was one way they referred to it; “Evolutionary Level Above Human” was another. The process of leaving their bodies was called “exiting the vehicles” or “disengaging from the body or vehicle”. This exodus was initiated by the return of the Hale-Bopp comet, after which they were to return to their homeworld of Sirius. Before death, they recorded messages of calm happiness: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long” or, “I couldn’t have made a better choice.”17 Ten years after the event, the L.A. Weekly piece “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” by Joshuah Bearman [archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20180202142644/http://www.laweekly.com/news/heavens-gate-the-sequel-2147951 ], would describe the belief system and place it as part of a long tradition: “Updating esoteric, early Christianity by way of science fiction, their millennial paradise could be found only by renouncing terrestrial attachments and shedding one’s “container” or “vehicle” to ascend into space and live eternally with the Chief of Chiefs, or God.” In the context of such events, the movie’s final moment where Max Renn says “Long live the new flesh”, then shoots himself, does not seem alien at all, but part of a larger tradition as well.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

A LIQUID PRISONER PENT IN WALLS OF GLASS18

That the O’Blivions are equally malicious as the Convex faction is strongly hinted at, I think, in this final scene. Only a little while earlier, after Max’s failed attempt to kill Bianca O’Blivion, we have this dialogue:

BIANCA O’BLIVION
They killed her, Max. They killed Nicki Brand. She died on Videodrome. They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.

Given that the image of Nicki Brand was used before to seduce and manipulate Max, and given that Barry Convex and Harlan are now dead, the only source for the movie’s closing image of Nicki must be Bianca. Since this is an image that has been used in the past to manipulate Max, it might be asked if it’s being used here for the same purpose, this time by Bianca, in order to dispose of an inconvenient leftover assassin. Even the same line said earlier, “Come to Nicki”, and the same seductive tone, is now used again:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

NICKI
I want you, Max. You. Come on. Come on. Come to me now. Come to Nicki.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

NICKI
Don’t be afraid to let your body die. Just come to me, Max. Come to Nicki.

So, Max Renn is perhaps being lured by another kind of illusion, the possibility of a transcendent afterlife. We might also note the non-specificity of the devastating phrase, “They used her image to seduce you but she was already dead.” What seduction is Bianca speaking of, and from when on was Nicki already dead? It’s right after Max Renn is exposed to the videodrome signal that he meets Nicki on the talk show, and I’ve always felt the dialogue in that scene to be unnatural. I try to think of what their banter reminds me of, and then I remember: the strange, uncomfortable talk in between the action of old soft-core porn.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

RENA KING
What about it, Nicki? Is it socially positive?

NICKI
We live in overstimulated times. We crave stimulation. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it’s tactile, emotional or sexual. And I think that’s bad.

MAX
Then why did you wear that dress?

NICKI
Sorry?

MAX
That dress. It’s very stimulating. And it’s red. You know what Freud would say about it?

NICKI
And he would have been right. I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

MAX
Listen, I’d really like to take you out to dinner tonight.

RENA KING
Nicki…is Max Renn a menace to society?

NICKI
I’m not sure. He’s certainly a menace to me.

Is this lack of versimilitude an unintentional effect, or a very intended one, of a man who isn’t meeting a live woman at all, but only the image of a dead one? I hear “they used her image to seduce you”, and I think that there can be only one possible meaning, because Renn is first seduced by Nicki on the talk show. From which it naturally follows: Nicki is already dead, only an image, throughout the movie.

The idea of an image superceding the life that inspired it, is one more exotic idea not native to Videodrome, but a commonplace of our world, where the living are often an impediment to the power of the icon’s image. We might return briefly to the work of William Gibson, to see him touch on the idea of the supremacy of the image in Idoru, where a living singer marries another singer, one who is only a hologram. This, however, is only the use of the near future as a metaphor for the ever present. To take another, more obvious example, the image of Marilyn Monroe is eternally that of a woman who never reaches forty, without anything alive to grow old, anything to remind one of Monroe as anything human, anything other than an icon. One anecdote told in Goddess by Anthony Summers, is of Monroe’s interest in Juliette Récamier, who commissioned a nude statue of herself. As Récamier aged, and her figure started to go, she had the breasts of the statue smashed. When Monroe began to age, she smashed herself19. The cruelest thing that can be said of Elvis Presley’s death is: good career move. The cruelest thing that can be said of Marilyn Monroe’s death is: good timing.

This kind of image, an icon that persists and supercedes the actual performer’s existence, derives its power from being an engima whose questions are never answered – who exactly was Marilyn Monroe? – which is intertwined with its second quality, someone intimate yet always at a great distance as if we are seeing them as part of a massive crowd. There is an exact moment in Monroe’s life which captures this, when she appears before thousands of troops in South Korea, and it was this moment that made obvious how big a star she would become. From The Genius and the Goddess by Jeffrey Meyers:

Performing for the first time before a live, rapturous audience, Marilyn did ten shows in four days and entertained 100,000 troops. The soldiers were muffled up in fur hats with ear flaps, heavy winter jackets and thick combat boots, while she gamely appeared, outdoors and in the extremely cold Korean winter, in high heels and a tight, strapless, low-cut dress. She enlivened the show with some suggestive jokes, and asked, when describing sweater girls, “take away their sweaters and what have you got?”

She sang four songs: “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Bye Bye Baby,””Somebody Loves Me” and “Do It Again.”The refrain in the last song – “Come and get it, you won’t regret it” – was considered too provocative for the sexually starved troops and had to be dropped from the repertory. She excited the audience, who screamed with delight and craved what she was offering, and brought the shows to a frenzied climax.

This allows us to move easily into the life of another woman who became focused on the ecstasy of the crowd’s reaction, and wanted something likewise in her own life. From Sinner Takes All by adult performer Tera Patrick with Carrie Borzillo:

How bad do you want what you want? I wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me. Well, in all honestly, I nearly killed me. But before we get to that, let me start at the beginning….

In 1986 I was ten years old and my mother had already left us. It was just me, Linda Ann Hopkins, and my dad, David Hopkins, a carefree hippie of English, Dutch, and Irish descent. I was born in Great Falls, Montana, but was living with my dad in Fresno. On a rare father-daughter day out, he took me to a thrift store in town to do some shopping. We were on a budget. As we made our way though the tiny, cramped shop, I saw her hanging on the dusty wall behind some cracked vases and rusty candelabras. It was a beautiful black-and-white photograph of Marilyn Monroe from the Korean USO tour she did in 1954. She was beaming as she posed for hundreds of handsome men in uniform, who in turn were ogling her in all her blond-haired, blueeyed glory.

Something lit up inside me when I saw that photograph. I thought, “Someday, men are going to look at me that way.”

I couldn’t stop staring at this photo, thinking how much I wanted to be that girl. The girl everyone adores. The girl whom fame made so happy (little did I know what a sad wreck she really was). All I knew about Marilyn at the time was how much I wanted to exude the power that she did. I wanted to be famous like that. I just didn’t know what for yet. I never thought it would be for porn.

That what Patrick wished for, what she wanted fulfilled, was fame more than anything else, is stressed in two other places in the memoir:

She [photographer Suze Randall] followed through. We shot that Friday for Penthouse. It was just a few days before my scheduled Monday meeting with Playboy. I couldn’t believe it was happening so fast. All I could think was, “I’m going to be in Playboy and Penthouse, make tons of money, and be famous!”

When I entered the adult industry, it was not my goal to become a mainstream actress or star. If that’s what I wanted to do, I would’ve gone the typical route of taking acting lessons, going in for auditions, and trying to get bit parts like every Hollywood hopeful does. But that wasn’t my quest. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to be famous and I liked to model and to be nude.

Patrick would eventually achieve her goal, and she gives us a scene in her memoir comparable to Monroe’s, of a crowd infatuated with her presence. She herself states that “it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one,” and it might be argued that this is what the fan wants, not intimacy, but intimacy combined with distance, the woman nude on-stage amongst a crowd of thousands. The meet and greet afterwards does not involve meeting a person separate and apart from the image, which the image reproduces, but rather, meeting a person who is a live reproduction of the image, and so the distance on the stage and the brief meet do not impede the wanted effect, but are necessary for it to take place.

One of the biggest conventions I ever did was the Sexpo in Sydney, Australia, in 2004. I appeared at the convention for a whopping fee of $20,000 (and first-class airfare and accommodations, no less!), but where we really made bank was when they booked me to dance at a venue that normally hosts big rock bands and seats eight thousand people. I had eight nearly sold-out shows in four days there.

Before we knew how big the venue really was and that it was sold out, Evan [Evan Seinfeld, her husband] gave me this pep talk: “Don’t worry if there’s only two hundred people there. You’re new to the market. Don’t worry.” And then we show up and there were thousands of people there. Once again there wasn’t a stripper pole on the stage because it wasn’t a strip club, so we decided to improvise a bit and use a chair in the center of the stage as a prop. But that didn’t help much. The huge stage made our tiny chair look like Stonehenge from the movie This Is Spinal Tap. We were cracking up over that. Evan decided to just treat it like a rock show and use the video monitors at the venue to show my performance. That did the trick.

The large crowd didn’t freak me out at all. In fact, it’s easier to perform for a larger audience than a more intimate one. It’s easy to be great when you have thousands of people screaming for you. The intensity of the crowd really got me going, and I killed!

The line for photos and merchandise afterward was the longest line I’d ever had in my entire career. It was so long and so slow that Evan got a megaphone and was walking down the line telling people, “Due to the large volume of fans, we are selling one thing. It’s a package with a DVD, a Polaroid with Tera, and an autographed eight-by-ten photo for fifty Australian dollars.” He was embarrassing me. He’d stand up on the table and shout out: “Cash only!”

The relationship of the audience to the famous individual here, which also transfers over to the image of the famous individual, is expressed well in dialogue from one of Patrick’s films, Tera Patrick Filthy Whore 2. Whatever happens after this dialogue is of no importance here. I bold the most important point:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

BELLA DIAMOND
The fans are out there by the thousands.

RUDY PARADISE
You know I had it with those damn premieres, all those screaming people. Those great unwashed.

DIAMOND
We’re royalty to them, honey. Dollar Diamond and Ruby Paradise. The great screen lovers. They support us in grand style. The least we could do is let them worship us once in a while. What’s that?

PARADISE
Oh, honey that’s not you think, it’s-

DIAMOND
IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
No, no-

DIAMOND
YOU SCREWED ANOTHER WOMAN IN MY DRESSING ROOM!

PARADISE
It’s not what you think. It’s a present for the premiere. C’mon.

DIAMOND
Are you telling me the truth?

PARADISE
Would I lie?

DIAMOND
Glamour puss?

PARADISE
You’re my glamour puss, sweetie. C’mon, you’re the glamour puss of the century.

DIAMOND
It is beautiful. You have great taste, Rudy. Where did you find it?

PARADISE
Oh, from a guy down in de Vandeville. I put a little money on layaway, just for the right time.

DIAMOND
Pay her the rest, darling, because this baby has found a home.

PARADISE
Oh come on, that’s not a kiss.

DIAMOND
You can fuck me darling, but you can’t mess up my make-up.

This idea of worship is not so remarkable or noteworthy to stand out at all in this movie or anywhere. I think it’s only by looking at the connections between this kind of idolatry and the religious form that we might have a sense as to why it’s so important for Tera Patrick to be famous, that she “wanted to be famous and adored so bad it nearly killed me”, a feeling which is not some isolated pathology but considered a common desire. We might find some insight by returning to Durkheim, who pinpoints something called mana as being central to the religion of various Melanesian tribes:

Now among these peoples, we find, under the name of mana, an idea which is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux20 and the orenda of the Iroquois21. The definition given by Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] is as follows: “There is a belief in a force altogether distinct from physical power, which acts in all ways for good and evil; and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess or control. This is Mana. I think I know what our people mean by it…It is a power or influence, not physical and in a way supernatural; but it shows itself in physical force, or in any kind of power or excellence which a man possesses. This mana is not fixed in anything, and can be conveyed in almost anything. . . . All Melanesian religion consists, in fact, in getting this mana for one’s self, or getting it used for one’s benefit.”

This idea of mana, and the related concepts of wakan and orenda, are not parochial concerns, but arguably underlie all the religions which follow:

This is the original matter out of which have been constructed those beings of every sort which the religions of all times have consecrated and adored. The spirits, demons, genii and gods of every sort are only the concrete forms taken by this energy, or “potentiality,” as Hewitt calls it, in individualizing itself, in fixing itself upon a certain determined object or point in space, or in centring around an ideal and legendary being, though one conceived as real by the popular imagination. A Dakota questioned by Miss Fletcher [a reference to The Import of the Totem by Alice C. Fletcher, link goes to full text on archive.org] expressed this essential consubstantiability of all sacred things in language that is full of relief.” Every thing as it moves, now and then, here and there, makes stops. The bird as it flies stops in one place to make its nest, and in another to rest in its flight. A man when he goes forth stops when he wills. So the god has stopped. The sun, which is so bright and beautiful, is one place where he has stopped. The trees, the animals, are where he has stopped, and the Indian thinks of these places and sends his prayers to reach the place where the god has stopped and to win help and a blessing.” In other words, the wakan (for this is what he was talking about) comes and goes through the world, and sacred things are the points upon which it alights.

We are now in a better condition to understand why it has been impossible to define religion by the idea of mythical personalities, gods or spirits; it is because this way of representing religious things is in no way inherent in their nature. What we find at the origin and basis of religious thought are not determined and distinct objects and beings possessing a sacred character of themselves; they are indefinite powers, anonymous forces, more or less numerous in different societies, and sometimes even reduced to a unity, and whose impersonality is strictly comparable to that of the physical forces whose manifestations the sciences of nature study.

The wakan is the cause of all the movements which take place in the universe. We have even seen that the orenda of the Iroquois is “the efficient cause of all the phenomena and all the activities which are manifested around men.” It is a power “inherent in all bodies and all things.” It is the orenda which makes the wind blow, the sun lighten and heat the earth, or animals reproduce and which makes men strong, clever and intelligent. When the Iroquois says that the life of all nature is the product of the conflicts aroused between the unequally intense orenda of the different beings, he only expresses, in his own language, this modern idea that the world is a system of forces limiting and containing each other and making an equihbrium.

The Melanesian attributes this same general efficacy to his mana. It is owing to his mana that a man succeeds in hunting or fighting, that gardens give a good return or that flocks prosper. If an arrow strikes its mark, it is because it is charged with mana; it is the same cause which makes a net catch fish well, or a canoe ride well on the sea, etc. It is true that if certain phrases of Codrington [The Melanesians : Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore by Robert Henry Codrington, link is to the full text on archive.org] are taken literally, mana should be the cause to which is attributed “everything which is beyond the ordinary power of men, outside the common processes of nature.” But from the very examples which he cites, it is quite evident that the sphere of the mana is really much more extended. In reality, it serves to explain usual and everyday phenomena; there is nothing superhuman or supernatural in the fact that a ship sails or a hunter catches game, etc.

This idea of mana, a universal, ubiquitous force, is already well-known to us as an abstraction in a fictional universe, so well-known that I can quote a monologue devoted to it, and I have no need to identify the source movie as most readers will know immediately from where it comes:

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

We might take the divine as something like an infinitely dense cluster of a quantity like mana. At the same time, it is not something outside of society, but contained within and dependent on the society itself:

But a god is not merely an authority upon whom we depend; it’s a force upon which our strength relies. The man who has obeyed his god and who, for this reason, believes the god is with him, approaches the world with confidence and with the feeling of an increased energy. Likewise, social action does not confine itself to demanding sacrifices, privations and efforts from us. For the collective force is not entirely outside of us; it does not act upon us wholly from without; but rather, since society cannot exist except in and through individual consciousnesses, this force must also penetrate us and organize itself within us; it thus becomes an integral part of our being and by that very fact this is elevated and magnified.

That the veneration of those in society overlaps with this idea of someone having great mana, great divine power, is obvious to Durkheim as well:

Also, in the present day just as much as in the past, we see society constantly creating sacred things out of ordinary ones. If it happens to fall in love with a man and if it thinks it has found in him the principal aspirations that move it, as well as the means of satisfying them, this man will be raised above the others and, as it were, deified. Opinion will invest him with a majesty exactly analogous to that protecting the gods. This is what has happened to so many sovereigns in whom their age had faith: if they were not made gods, they were at least regarded as direct representatives of the deity. And the fact that it is society alone which is the author of these varieties of apotheosis, is evident since it frequently chances to consecrate men thus who have no right to it from their own merit. The simple deference inspired by men invested with high social functions is not different in nature from religious respect. It is expressed by the same movements: a man keeps at a distance from a high personage; he approaches him only with precautions; in conversing with him, he uses other gestures and language than those used with ordinary mortals. The sentiment felt on these occasions is so closely related to the religious sentiment that many peoples have confounded the two. In order to explain the consideration accorded to princes, nobles and political chiefs, a sacred character has been attributed to them. In Melanesia and Polynesia, for example, it is said that an influential man has mana, and that his influence is due to this mana. However, it is evident that his situation is due solely to the importance attributed to him by public opinion. Thus the moral power conferred by opinion and that with which sacred beings are invested are at bottom of a single origin and made up of the same elements. That is why a single word is able to designate the two.

Thus, we can explain the desire of Tera Patrick and others to be famous. They wish to be touched by mana, they wish to become sacred objects. The sense of a sacredness mentioned here, the necessary “distance from a high personage”, is something recognizably intertwined with celebrity, where the famous are seemingly kept excluded and away, in private planes, high class restaurants, the VIP room of the club, a secret society outside of sight. For the famous to be seen in our world, in public and without make-up, seemingly ordinary, is treated as a revelation. The only moments when the sacred and the profane are officially to meet, when the profane might gaze on the sacred is during tightly organized ceremonies, as carefully planned and supervised as anicent religious rituals, such as red carpet events and the Oscars. Durkheim’s passage here on the prohibition of the profane touching the sacred, the negative cult as one organized around such contact, is helpful when we consider celebrities and their environs as the sacred, prohibited objects:

There are religious interdictions whose object is to separate two sacred things of different species from each other. For example, it will be remembered that among the Wakelbura the scaffold upon which the corpse is exposed must be made exclusively of materials belonging to the phratry of the dead man; this is as much as to say that all contact between the corpse, which is sacred, and the things of the other phratry, which are also sacred, but differently, is forbidden. Elsewhere, the arms which one uses to hunt an animal with cannot be made out of a kind of wood that is classed in the same social group as the animal itself. But the most important of these interdictions are the ones which we shall study in the next chapter; they are intended to prevent all communication between the purely sacred and the impurely sacred, between the sacredly auspicious and the sacredly inauspicious. All these interdictions have one common characteristic; they come, not from the fact that some things are sacred while others are not, but from the fact that there are inequalities and incompatibilities between sacred things. So they do not touch what is essential in the idea of sacredness. The observance of these prohibitions can give place only to isolated rites which are particular and almost exceptional; but it could not make a real cult, for before all, a cult is made by regular relations between the profane and the sacred as such. But there is another system of religious interdictions which is much more extended and important; this is the one which separates, not different species of sacred things, but all that is sacred from all that is profane. So it is derived immediately from the notion of sacredness itself, and it limits itself to expressing and realizing this. Thus it furnishes the material for a veritable cult, and even of a cult which is at the basis of all the others; for the attitude which it prescribes is one from which the worshipper must never depart in all his relations with the sacred. It is what we call the negative cult. We may say that its interdicts are the religious interdicts par excellence.

The sacred ultimately resides exclusively in images, with the actual encounter with the celebrity behind the image often a disappointment, not due to their own inherent failings, but simply because they are not an image. When the celebrity dies, any such impediment to the process dies, and if they die at thirty-six like Marilyn Monroe, any evidence of a life of aging, disease, or physical deterioration which might imply the limits of the image, this dies as well. The image divests itself of all connections with life, like Max Renn in Videodrome or any other devotee to a religious ideal, and becomes even more sacred. The image, even and especially the sexual image, is only that, without the element of the tactile or the tangible. Something of this is gotten at in this discussion from 1991 with Norman Mailer, on the idea of people who become objects of desire. I pay no attention to the digressions into feminism. From “Norman Mailer on Bookworm, Part Two [1991]” (15:20-17:28 in the clip):

MICHAEL SILVERBLATT [program host]
I don’t think I’ve heard anybody say this…there’s an enormous fear…on people’s part…to be the object of desire. To cause desire.

MAILER
Well, there you may have something. Certain people, not all. [SILVERBLATT: Not all people.] You gave me an idea. I think it’s people who have set their course in life, and they’re what I would call uni-souls…that is, they do not really want to have a deep relation with anyone else. Because that’ll deter them from their objective. It’s as if the navigator in them has lined up their sights, and said to them, “You are a torpedo. And if nothing deters you, you will be a huge success. You will blow up that huge target that is the very end of your ambition, and you will be immortal. And so, don’t let anything get in your way, just be a torpedo.” Well, people like that, sexual harassment’s absolutely outrageous. And it’s interesting that women who are leading feminism very often are that way. That is, they are singleminded in their goals. Feminism is their life. They see nothing to the left or the right of feminism. It’s not like, let’s improve men and women together, or: let’s try to rise to a higher level of human relations. It’s: feminism is the most important single thing in their lives, and they work for it twenty-four hours a day. They’re devoted to it. And they too are torpoedoes. You know, they got one goal.

SILVERBLATT
I don’t know if it’s even characteristic of feminism. What I notice, living here in Los Angeles, which people call nowadays, “the least sexy city in America.” The most beautiful looking people, and the least sexually in kind people. Very low libido levels. The look is meant to create attraction, but there’s a strong “do not touch”. Because of exactly that torpedo factor you are talking about. People wanting to spring themselves into the future, and land at the center of the bullseye, and along that trajectory, attraction and dalliance can only be an interruption.

The place that Marilyn Monroe and other dead icons hold in our culture might be found in Durkheim’s distinction between ghosts and spirits, with Monroe very much a spirit:

[A] ghost is not a real spirit. In the first place, it generally has only a limited power of action; also, it does not have a definite province. It is a vagabond, upon whom no determined task is incumbent, for the effect of death has been to put it outside of all regular forms; as regards the living, it is a sort of a exile. A spirit, on the other hand, always has a power of a certain sort and it is by this that it is defined; it is set over a certain order of cosmic or social phenomena; it has a more or less precise function to fulfil in the system of the universe.

But there are some souls which satisfy this double condition and which are consequently spirits, in the proper sense of the word. These are the souls of the mythical personages whom popular imagination has placed at the beginning of time, the Altjirangamitjina or the men of the Alcheringa among the Arunta; the Mura-mura among the tribes of Lake Eyre; the Muk-Kurnai among the Kurnai, etc. In one sense, they are still souls, for they are believed to have formerly animated bodies from which they separated themselves at a certain moment. But even when they led a terrestrial life, they already had, as we have seen, exceptional powers; they had a mana superior to that of ordinary men, and they have kept it. Also, they are charged with definite functions.

That there is this kinship between ancient mana and fame, that we might speak of wanting mana when we say we want fame (and vice versa), is perhaps why there is a constant necessity to see some benevolent order in celebrityhood. Mana is divine material, god is inherently and eternally good, and therefore mana and fame are distributed according to virtue. The most famous are supposed to do good work, adopt children, and otherwise make obvious that this organization has the quality of divine sanction. This, of course, is utterly false. We might see the gulf in the life of Jenna Jameson, as described in her memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. Patrick and Jameson were engaged for a while in a not entirely friendly rivalry, and I make no attempt to weigh favor in that larger dispute when I say that Cautionary Tale is my preferred book of their memoirs, whether because of Jameson’s ghostwriter Neil Strauss (who played the same role for the memorable Long Road out of Hell by Marilyn Manson), or the raw materials of the life described. I do not elevate Jameson’s book out of any attempt to be a provocateur, only the virtue of the book itself, and only for that reason I think it serves as an honest and invaluable document in capturing what life was like now, more insightful than many books more distinguished and higher browed.

That I speak of a divine order of fame that would include pornography is perhaps unexpected, but not without basis. We might speak of a system of organization and distribution, in the manufacture and sale of products whose power is so great as to suggest the divine. This system might be called capitalism, whatever its actual qualities, a system which transmits the images of any beauty throughout the world, that produces powerful computer technology, that gives you access to affordable food and shoes. Pornography is part of this system’s god-like power, because it is through this vast system that beauty, the beauty of Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick, a beguiling surface that might be called something like a divine ideal, is exposed and unveiled for the billions. It is an order of divine power, with an underside that hints at the infernal. The disgusting conditions of the Amazon warehouses, the workers who are poisoned while making iPads, the children who make my shoes. There is the literally infernal as well, the hundreds who burned to death last year in the clothing factories of Bangladesh. The life of Jenna Jameson is the raw amoral anarchy that lies underneath, a godless world where there are only the strong above and the weak below, of contempt and control.

There is nothing here like the humble submission and divine benevolence as that between the worshipper and say, the Holy Virgin. Jameson is a picture of blonde innocence, a ruthless survivor, and a proud cash machine. “I was in control-of myself, and the men around me,” she writes of her first time dancing in a strip club. “And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me.”22 The strip club is a classroom, and the class is social dynamics. Once geeky and asocial, she learns how to talk. She learns how to act. She learns how to lie. While the customer mumbles on, she pretends to be open and caring. “Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear.” She is soon someone else. “Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.” Her look of innocence becomes even more innocent. “Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that…I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.”23 She gets two lessons from another girl. Number One: “Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.” Number Two: do shots with the customer, and make sure his are extra strong and yours complete water. “Get him as drunk as possible,” the other girl says, “and rack those songs up.”24

This is about money, but it is more about control. “It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it.” The woman is naked, the woman is powerless, the woman has more power than the customer ever will. “The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back.”25 A local politician was into her and liked to be dominated. She pees in his beer and forces him to drink it. He buys her a corvette. “If you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone…life is good.”26 She dances for celebrities, and she doesn’t care. Those assholes were Pantera? That old weirdo was Jack Nicholson? “Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?” “Really, like I give a crap.”27 She moves on to photo work, and she has to contort herself into an aching pose that has nothing to do with the ecstatic state she appears to have in the picture. She looks over her shouldeer, nude, at the camera. “I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped,” she writes. “When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.”28

She gets into porn as an act of revenge when a boyfriend cheats on her29. She stays in for the money. She starts out girl-girl, then shoots her first boy-girl scene when she’s eighteen with Randy West, who she describes as a decent guy, but a little old (forty six or forty seven), with the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler30.

Randy: So, are you interested in coming out to L.A. to shoot a video?
Me: Absolutely not. I only want to do high-end stuff.
Randy: The pay is three thousand dollars for one scene.
Me: What day you want me there?

Randy: How about doing a shoot with just me tomorrow?
Me: How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t really want to do that.
Randy: How about I pay you two thousand dollars more?
Me: Two thousand more than today?
Randy: Yes.
Me: Is tomorrow good for you?

Chris Nieratko, from a 2013 interview (“Jenna Jameson Interview”): Did you feel any of that when you were eighteen, really grossed out by these greasy men?
Jameson: Absolutely. Oh my god, you have no idea. I hate to throw him under the bus, but Randy West, god bless him, but he creeped me out so bad. I was just watching a documentary, I was on NetFlix, and they did this documentary called After Porn [After Porn Ends]…and I was, like, okay I wanna watch this. It’ll be interesting, it’s kinda my generation. So, he’s talking about this, there’s this little blonde girl, they called me and asked me if she can do a movie, and when I saw her, I saw dollar signs in my eyes, and I was like, okay, that’s creepy. I had just turned eighteen years old, and he had to have been at least fifty [the scene is from Up And Cummers 11 (link is relatively SFW, contains no pictures) which was released in 1994, and West was born in 1947, according to the same database, so he was either 46 or 47.]. And he was just so gross. And he totally lied about everything that happened that day. But I’ll just give it to him though. You know, whatever, he can have his little fantasy.
Nieratko: How do you get a girl boner to make a scene with a guy who’s fifty when you’re eighteen?
Jameson: You don’t. You’re just a good actress.

Randy West, from After Porn Ends: I used to say it’s like borrowing somebody’s body to masturbate with. “Excuse me, if you’re not busy, do you mind if I jerk off in your pussy, with my dick?” It’s kinda like that, which is not bad…you know, better than real jerking off. Right after I started producing Up And Cummers, I get this letter in the mail, I opened it up, and I see this unbelievably good looking, very young looking blonde girl…with beautiful natural boobs, little baby face, and she wants to know if I can help her get into the porn biz. The girl’s name was Jenna Jameson. I remember saying to someone, “Holy christ, if I get this girl to shoot for me, we’re going to sell some tapes.” I said, “Well, if you don’t wanna do guys, I’ll let you pick whatever girl you want to do that. She liked girls, so she picked this girl that I happened to be working with that day, who was doing her first movie, Kylie Ireland, so Kylie and Jenna were doing their thing together, and everything was going good, and they took a little break, and I said something like, “Man, Jenna, that’s a tasty looking pussy you got there.” And I believe she said, “Why don’t you come in and taste it?” And I went, *taken aback motion* “Okay!” I was doing the camera, but I handed it to my assistant, “Bob, hold on to this, start shooting.” So I get in there, and I start going down on her, and she starts squealing that squeal that she had…I’m guessing she’s kinda liking it, she seems like she’s getting off, and everything is good, I said, “Man, I am so fucking horny now, you guys mind giving me a double blow job or something?” She said, “Sure, we can do that.” *makes a prayer of thanks motion* “Oh thank you.” And they did, and it went well, and a week later, she kinda called me back, and said “You know what? You weren’t so bad, I could probably do a boy-girl scene with you,” the rest is kinda history after that.

A summary of the scene can be found in a review on an old mailing list, “Dunbar Reviews: Up and Cummers #11”:

Jenna Jameson. A sweet-looking, young little blonde. Nice natural tits, cute ass. I’ve heard told that she has since destroyed her body with fake tits (which she definitly did not need) and tattoos? Why do they do that? They do missionary and cowgirl shot from both the front and the back, and finally doggie. Randy finishes by coming inside her. It looks like he manages a decent load as she squirts it out of her cunt and it oozes into a puddle on the bed spread. Kind of gross if you ask me, but definitely out of the ordinary.

Jenna Jameson starts doing meth, then becomes entranced as she watches her boyfriend take apart a lightbulb, cook the meth in the glass, and inhale the smoke from the open base. She takes her turn, and the air comes in glassy smooth against her lungs. She lets out a three foot column of smoke from her lips. “Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.”31 She starts smoking every day. She organizes and re-organizes her bathroom a thousand times. She endlessly builds artwork with a gluegun. She plays so much handheld poker that her fingers bleed. In photo shoots, her bones stick out of her body and she starts clenching her jaw hard. “Jenna, relax,” the photographer says. “Let the tension out of your face.”32 The drug nearly kills her, then she comes back to life and has an even bigger career. She goes to Cannes with two other porn stars, Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she writes of Nicole and Ashton. “They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.” 33 She emerges from the plane into another world, the one she’s always wanted to be in, the one that Tera Patrick also longed to join. “It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere.” The photographers have no idea who she is, only that she is a kind of sacred object, which their flashbulbs make more sacred. “The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like.”34

She becomes a big star, and does some reporting for the E! Channel. “So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel,” says Wesley Snipes. “Why don’t you join us?” She accepts the invite. “So,” Wesley Snipes asks. “do you like it up the ass?” Anal sex, she writes, “is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.”35 There are few people she’ll trust with anal. And she doesn’t like the closeness after sex. She sleeps with a waiter at Cannes. “When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling.”36 She starts hooking up with the Anti-Christ Superstar, Marilyn Manson. They sleep together. “Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asks. “Did you just say the c-word?!” she asks. “I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion.”37 Marilyn Manson likes to cuddle, and he’s a little too into anal. “Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.”38 This is an act of power, of control, and you only do it with those you absolutely trust. “I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal,” she writes, explaining why she’d only done it with three men up until then, and never on camera. “Doing it on camera would be compromising myself.”39

Anal is about control, porno is about control, though the power isn’t always where you think. “It’s time to meet the man you thought you envied,” we’re told about the boyfriends and husbands of porn stars who also act as their managers, “the suitcase pimps.” We’re given an overview of a manipulative wretch burdened by an emasculating fanny pack, which carries the porn star’s baby wipes, her lighters, and all other conveniences. These men are filled with get rich plans that never work, who buy the porn star dinner with her money while insisting she only eat salads, and is hooked on oxycontin, cocaine, steroids, or many other possibilities. The last instruction on playing this role: “Finally, when she is addicted to drugs, aged beyond her years, and can’t work anymore, help start the career of a fresh girl.”40 As Jameson’s own marriage fell apart, her director husband would wreak vengeance through the roles given. She does a scene where she gets hosed down surrounded by electric wires, one where she rides half naked on a blind horse, another where she plays a firewoman in balloon pants and a defective oxygen tank. In this last one, she has sex near a wall of actual flame while wearing a long blonde wig. “Will her flesh fry? Watch and find out!”41 A brief interlude featuring questions and answers with a male perfomer includes the most obvious query: “A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?” Answer: “Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life.” Why? “A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them.”42

Jenna Jameson’s most frightening dream, the one that always recurs, is that there is someone nearby who can hurt her and she gives herself away.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same nightmare. I am being chased through a large dilapidated house. There is someone directly behind me, but I can’t see him. I hide in the closet. I’m terrified. My heart is heaving in my chest. I know he’s right outside. I try to hold my breath so he can’t hear me. But I can’t stop gasping. It’s deafening. I know if he hears me, he’s going to open the door and get me. But there’s nothing I can do to quiet my fear. He’s coming closer. He can hear me now. It’s over. I’m going to die.

And then I wake up. To this day, I’ve never seen that person. Knowing that someone who wants to hurt me is so close by and that I am giving myself away is the worst feeling in the world.

The book ends with Jameson at the height of her powers. She tours as a feature dancer, and each night in each city she tells the crowd it’s her birthday. Instead of celebrating it on her own, she’s decided to spend it with them. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” is her secret thought. The grateful crowd always throws in extra cash. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”43 She knew who had the power:

So if I caught a guy saying something obnoxious to his friends, I’d knock his hat off or spill a drink on his pants. At one show, when a guy threw a penny at me, I kicked him in the throat with my heel. I got in constant fights with local dancers-I even hocked a loogie in one girl’s face-and had guys thrown out of the club on a nightly basis. If some asshole dared to touch me, I’d reward him with a backhand to the skull. I was out of control. It was awesome.

She goes out on another feature tour with a dancer who’s an occasional girlfriend, Nikki Tyler, and a man known as Mr. 187, after California’s code for murder, and who’s a sergeant-at-arms with the Hell’s Angels. “Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.”44 A few years later, Mr. 187 was charged with murder for killing a club patron, then acquitted, on grounds of self-defense. A few years after that, he was killed at the funeral for another member of the Hell’s Angels45. But back then he was still alive, and they were a three person wrecking crew. “They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them,” she said of Kaylan Nicole and Juli Ashton, when they were veterans and she was a newcomer. She knew now what they knew then. She and Nikki would demand $5000 a night, and they would get it. With merchandise and tips, they’d get $100,000 for a three night booking, plus limos, plus security, plus a five star hotel with room service, and a rider complicated enough to make sure that people got their shit right46. And…did I say already they were an utter wrecking crew?

Nikki and I were angry at the world in our own way, and Mr. 187’s function was to justify and enable it. He’d fan the flames of our Vicodin-and-vodka-fueled rage to the point where we got so out of control that even he couldn’t handle us. I’d smash out mirrors in dressing rooms; Nikki would clamp guys in leglocks until their heads turned purple; we’d kick drinks in guys’ faces; and we’d pass out on top of each other onstage.

There may be a habit of thought which sees Jameson as the chaotic exception, the intruder into elysium, distinct in an otherwise placid landscape. One reads the account of her childhood, and she is re-seen as something else, one more point in a mass that is raw, violent, savage. The movie Naked Lunch has nothing to do with the nihilist tumult of the book, but How to Make Love Like a Porn Star very much does. We are given excerpts of Jameson’s diary, before her stage name, when she was Jenna Massoli, and the girl there is bright eyed, tender, vulnerable. She is an unhappy iterant, moving from Vegas, to Florida, then Colorado, back to Vegas, then Montana, then Vegas again.

January 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I’m 8 years old.

I watched funny car racing. And I took tinsel off the Christmas tree. “real exciting,” My dads off tomoro. I watched a new show “Battle of the Beat.” I have a dog named “Ming.” My Grandma came over. My brother keeps on singing “You don’t want me anymore.” We had a good Christmas. I got a canopy. And my brother got a gun.

I watched the Black stallion.

April 1, 1983

Dear Diaree,

I broke my arm about 5 weeks ago. I just got my cast off. While I’m talking about hospitals my dads getting a chin augmentation. Hes getting it tomoro at 10:00. He’s nervous. He wants it to come in two minutes. I played a joke on my mommy Marjorie. I pretended to see a giant spider. She was scared, then I said APRIL FOOLS! She said you dirty rat. I laughed so hard. She was really mad. It was funny. Then we played Lego’s. It was fun. Were going to paint easter eggs.

Its going to be fun.

Bye Diaree

tomorrow
tomorrow
tommorow

June 24, 1984

Dear Diarree Diary,

Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve had a lot on my mind. Well I’ll tell you all what’s happened. We moved in with grandma. We live on 7th & Franklin. I go to John S. Park school. I past into 5th grade. I turned 10 April 9th. My brother’s thirteen’s. Weve been having bad troubles. My mom and dad are getting separated. These last few days have been awful. Its been really hard on me a lot more than Tony cause he hates her.

I’ve had her as a mother since I was 2. My poor dad is feeling awful. She’s moving out today or tomorrow.

My heart is so broken I could just cry.

July 30, 1984

We moved to Boulder City and I’m doing fine. Today I saw my old friend beth. She does toe. She had an extra pair and let me have them. I can do toe at ballet class now.

There black. It’s about 10:07 at night. My dads home late at about 12:00. I can’t wait till then. I feel safer. We called into MTV Friday night video.

Duran Duran won. Ming’s sitting right beside me watching me write.

My Most Treasured Things

Diary
toe shoes
canopy bed
white dress
Real mothers neckless
dad
beth
Unicorn Collection

December 21, 1986

Dear Diary,

This is Jenna reporting from the cold region of Elko Nevada. I really like it down here. I have a lot of friends such as Natalie Glass, Kristine Poljak, and Ginny Richey. We got a new puppy. He’s a black Labrador. His name is Digby & he’s two months old. Welp, it’s almost Christmas & I don’t know a thing I’m getting! I’m in the bath writing this! Well I’ve finally gotten hair and I’m starting to get some boobs.

Well I better wash my hair.

Bye,

Jen

November 24, 1987

Hello. I’m in Las Vegas now. We moved back. Vivian [her father’s ex-girlfriend] is history. Oh well. I will probably look back on my childhood and laugh. I laugh at it already. I have a lot of friends but I never go anywhere. It’s very depressing.

I went to State and I won young Miss Modeling Queen. And then I went to Nationals Recently and I got top ten in the country in my pageant.

I had a lot of fun.

September 20, 1989

Hi there! Well I moved to Montana and I’m not really very happy here. I miss Owen. He was my latest boyfriend in L.V. [Las Vegas] before I left.

Well here is whats been happening since I got to this place. Well, I am very popular but some fo the girls at school don’t like me.

October 1, 1990

Dear Diary,

The WORST thing in the WORLD happened today.
It’s so horrible I can’t even write it down or tell my dad or my brother anything.

I HATE Montana. I WANT to KILL MYSELF.

But that wouldn’t be fair to my dad. I am not going to write anything down anymore. I am going to get out of here and forget all about this place.

I am so sad and torn apart and confused. I don’t understand people. How could this happen to me? I don’t know what to do. Life sucks.

Goodbye Forever Diary,

Jenna

From a series of family interviews in the book, with Jenna, her father Larry Massoli, and her brother, Tony:

Larry: I’d like to know what happened in Montana.

Jenna: I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to talk about it.

Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father and easily the most interesting character in the book, worked as a police officer when they were first in Vegas, and that’s where he got caught in a war between two rival borellos. Mobsters tried to kidnap his children, Jenna and Tony, they put out a contract on him, they came to kill his family. The Massolis move to Florida. “I guess Florida was awful,” says Larry. “Ugh, Florida was ghetto,” agrees Jenna. Her school had a barbed wire fence and the kids’ tricycles were chained down together because otherwise they’d get stolen47. Someone tries to break into their house, but it’s okay: Tony has a gun. Tony slept with guns since he was six years old48. When they are back in Vegas, Jenna and her brother act like utter hellions. They steal fire extinguishers and spray passers-by. “We would go down to cracktown and see the crack hos on the corner and we’d fog ’em up!,” she remembers. “I remember one time we got this kid on a skateboard and there was a cop that saw us. We were in this total car chase, and we got away.”49 They would build giant sculptures in people’s yards, Jenna would light them up, and then-

Jenna: Finally, boom! Everything would explode in flames. People would be coming out of their houses freaking out. And then a couple days later on the news, “There’s been a rash of arsons across the Las Vegas valley.” And we’re all like, “Yaaaayyy!” Our dad had no clue.

Her father moves them again to Montana, to raise cattle and try to keep Jenna out of trouble. At school, the boys liked her and the other girls didn’t. They would chase her, throw her down, and punch her in the stomach. “One girl would get me by the back, and one would punch me in the stomach. They didn’t really hurt me, but Jesus Christ I got the wind knocked out of me. Or they would rip out my hair.”50 Before finally leaving Montana, Jenna saw the girl who picked on her the most getting something from her locker. She goes up and smashes the locker door so hard, it splits the girl’s head wide open51. This last act takes place after the worst thing in the world happened to her, after she’s stopped going to school because of it, after she’s decided she wants to get as far away as possible from Montana. She finally reveals in her memoir what it is, when writing about her first time on “The Howard Stern Show”:

He kept saying that something didn’t compute. He asked if I had a screwed-up childhood, and I said no. He asked if my parents had been strict, and I said no. He asked if my dad and I still talked, and I said we did. He asked if my mom minded what I was doing, and I said no. I had decided in advance that it was better not to discuss her death on the air. I didn’t think I could handle it.

But then Howard asked me if I’d ever been molested or abused. It was the one question I wasn’t prepared for.

This is the moment on the show, “Jenna Jameson first appearance on Howard Stern (1995) Part 1” (3:25-4:24):

STERN
You know what, sometimes I look at porno movies, and I go, man, that girl is so good looking. How could she be in porno movies? And I can’t figure it out. You know what I mean?

JAMESON
Right.

STERN
Listen. I have a lot of porno stars in here, but a lot of them I reject, because it’s like, how many times can you have a porno star? But then when I saw your pictures, you were such a piece of ass, I mean, look at this, is that a modeling ad, or what?

QUIVERS
I thought that was some Sports Illustrated model.

STERN
Look at that. So then I said, she’s gotta have a screwed up story, she’s so damned beautiful. I see beautiful women in these pornos, and I go: how the hell do they get them to have-

QUIVERS
Why are they in there.

STERN
-wild monkey sex in these pornos. You have to have had a screwed up childhood, right?

JAMESON
No. Actually-

STERN
Oh, come on. Something happened-

JAMESON
My dad was a cop.

STERN
And he never molested you?

JAMESON
Maybe it’s a rebellious thing.

QUIVERS
Were they strict or what?

JAMESON
No. Not at all. I ran wild.

STERN
What happened? You just ran wild.

QUIVERS
You had no supervision whatsoever.

JAMESON
Not really.

QUIVERS
There you go.

STERN
They weren’t strict at all?

JAMESON
No.

STERN
They let you do whatever you want?

JAMESON
I was out of control.

What happened was simple: she was beaten and gang raped by four boys after a football game. We are not allowed the comfort that these boys were something alien or obviously monstrous: she describes them as funny, good-looking guys. They raped her anyway. The family moved back to Las Vegas, and there, she was raped by her boyfriend’s uncle, a man named Preacher. “I’ve never told anyone about either the Montana experience or the one with Preacher because I don’t want to be thought of as a victim,” she writes. “I want to be judged by who I am as a person, not by what happened to me.”

This is someone who appears to live in a society without the protection of laws or social codes. Gangsters try to kidnap her, attempt to kill her family, indifferent to her father being a policeman. No taboo, restriction, or moral perimeter keeps women from punching her in the stomach, men from misusing her, men from raping her. The only guaranteed protection against home invasion are your own guns, the only thing that keeps other people from hurting you is your own spine. That the image of this woman is known to billions is a result of the most advanced technology, and yet the world she lives in appears to be lawless, modern America and pre-modern America, the west described in Orwell’s “Mark Twain: The Licensed Jester”: “The State hardly existed, the churches were weak and spoke with many voices, and land was to be had for the taking.” However, the law that Orwell emphasizes as absent, economic pressure, is overwhelming in Massoli’s life, is the only law that seemingly exists. It is because of money that she is able to act with fuller freedom than ever before – “I was out of control. It was awesome”. She has the license to be out of control because she’s pulling down five grand in three nights. This might be one of the few books where a woman speaks of sleeping with other women without any mention of it being a perceived transgression, a rebellion, or a violation of society’s rules. “As I was talking, she suddenly reached across the table, put her hand under my chin, pulled my face into hers, and kissed me,” she writes of another stripper she’s tutoring in necessary work skills, when the student makes a move on her.

It wasn’t a peck on the lips, or one of those fake sexy kisses that girls do with other girls to turn men on. It was a full-on tongue-exploring-mouth soul kiss. My breath quickened, and my mind raced. I was in shock. But, at the same time, I wasn’t. This was why I had really come up to her. I didn’t want to help her become a better stripper at all. I wanted to run my hands through her hair, feel her cheek against mine, and hold her in my arms. I had to make a split-second decision. And that decision was yes. Yes, I wanted to throw down with this girl.

She released my mouth and looked softly into my eyes. I wrapped my right hand behind her head, and she pressed her lips once more against mine. She kissed with the confidence and passion of a man.

Scenes such as this are not written for the appetites of men, but only as a blunt description of events that took place. From an account of times with another girl: “She could come fifteen times in a single session, and always wanted to eat me out when I was on my period. She called it war paint.” There is no mention of a contrast with what other women do, or what society expects of a woman to act, or any larger gay culture. These women and this society doesn’t exist in her life, and may as well be on a distant planet. If society does not exist to protect you from rape, robbery, and kidnapping, why should it even be acknowledged for such humble acts as this? In the review of the book by Charles Taylor, “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson”, this often insightful critic writes of Massoli as part of a larger group of sex workers in opposition and outside the values of the middle class:

What could seem a better way to flout middle-class values than going into stripping or nude modeling or adult movies (even though, for some of the people who go into them, they are the quickest route to middle-class stability)? But though sex workers have often been looked down on in the name of middle-class propriety, it’s interesting to think about what they share with the middle class.

Taylor re-assures us that these people are finally us as well: “Often those people wind up living traditional middle-class lives — they get married, have kids, buy a home.” This overlooks that Massoli was never middle class at her most successful, she was a multi-millionaire and part of the one percent, and it makes the mistake of placing Massoli as part of a larger group. Her life is the most extreme expression of unrestrained independence that might be found, without reliance on the government or solidarity with anyone, her career born in the ruthless desert state whose lack of gambling laws allowed its foremost industry to exist. “Fuck Gloria Steinem,” she writes52. You are alone in this world, so you’d better figure out how to handle it quick. There is no ethos or philosophy that can be connected to this life, except for one thing: Jenna Massoli has been able to survive a great deal.

That there is something lost in existing like this, in having to live like this, is suggested in one of Jenna Massoli’s longer diary entries. She expresses something that might be called innocence, and to find it appealing might seem like a longing for a pristine state that cannot exist in harsh life, like orchids that cannot survive outside the hothouse, but I think it is only a state possible for a person who can allow themselves to be vulnerable, for the possibility of giving themselves away, without feeling unsafe. Those who’ve read this book will find one sentence especially striking: “The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.” Jenna Massoli had no issue with snuggling then.

June 9, 1988

Victor,

A boy or should I say a man moved into our apartment yesterday or the day before. Amy and I were walking & we encountered one of her classmates. We talked awhile out at the swimming pool. He spoak to me about an attractive friend of his named Victor. He described him as blonde buff & tan. And of course he sounded attractive to me. I secretly inside wanted to meet this mystery man. But I was very timid about meeting strange men. But Amy said to just come and sit in the grass in front of his so called apartment. So I did.

We sat and had a few meaningless conversations, until I saw 2 dark figures moving at a somewhat fast pace. All at once they sat down in our huddle in the grass. One was dark haired and very old looking, sitting on his motorcycle helmet. The other, he was hard to take my eyes off. He struck me as the wild type, someone who could release my secret desire to be wanted in a seductive manner & to be treated & looked at as an attractive woman. And to throw away peoples tendency to look at me as a cute pretty but young girl. As time went on, he became more and more sexy. But I couldn’t show my secret desire to touch him. I think he realized how much I wanted him & he came and made himself comfortable unusually close to my warm body. He made me feel like no other boy or man ever made me feel. It was getting quite late so I got up and started to leave-thinking to myself it was silly of me to even think of being able to satisfy his needs.

But as soon as the thought ended and I was within two arms lengths away from him, a phrase I was secretly wishing he would say left his mouth, “When will I see you again.” My heart filled with joy and passion. “Tomorrow,” I said. The next day I couldn’t see him at all. But at about 11:30 p.m. I peered through my window and there he was. No, he wasn’t a figment of my imagination. He was real. He was standing beneath my open window, staring up at me. We greeted each other and I yearned to hold him close to me, like I so often thought about. He gave me his telephone number and he disappeared into the darkness. The next day I found myself alone in his room, him holding my body close to him.

He gave me a few playful pecks on my arms and my face. Then he gave me the most passionate and deep kiss I have ever even assumed there could be. My god. I wanted to stay here in his arms and make love to him over and over again until my body was so tired it had to stop. But I had to leave. He is the one that I want to be with day & night. But I don’t think you know that. Try to understand how much I want & need to be with you. Sorry for making it so long but I couldn’t tell you in any other way.

I will never ever stop wanting you.

There is the interesting contrast that Jenna Jameson has said in several places that she’s submissive when having sex with men (she is dominant with women), so the mass of images is of herself submitting to men, when she has a very different attitude in actual life, outside the bedroom: of being very strong, of someone giving orders, someone who never wishes to be vulnerable53. We have something similar with Tera Patrick, who gives her sexual likes as “rough sex, hair pulling, mild choking, getting tied up, playing the submissive, strong, tough, tattooed men”, yet this also is not to be taken for emotional fragility. Her attitude when she first entered this industry, and one that fit so well with it: “I was enjoying life. I was free. And I was horny. My motto was: ‘Get it up. Get it in. Get it off. Get it out.'” The obvious question is: to what extent we are in control of this role? Are we playing at dominating, or are we actually dominating? Are we playing at submitting, or are we actually submitting? At various points in Patrick’s Sinner Take All, her then husband Evan Seinfeld, takes over the narrative and gives his perspective:

Tera and I went back at it. We did everything. We were being silly, taking these photos of each other. We were having a lot of fun. I was trying to take a P.O.V. picture of myself peeing on her. Some people don’t understand what peeing is all about. Peeing on each other isn’t about the pee. It’s about domination and submission. It’s when she lays down on the floor of the shower and gives herself fully and says, “Go ahead do whatever you want. I’m yours.” We are a perfect match because I am so overdominant and she is super-submissive All of her friends’ worst fears came true: I made her my cock puppet. But she loved it.

Tera agrees: “I never let a man pee on me, but I let Evan. It’s about submission, trust, and giving yourself freely to someone, and that’s a turn-on.” Patrick’s memoir, which appears to be reaching the crescendo of a happy marriage to Seinfeld, a man she deeply loves, instead twists to an unexpected halt. We are put abruptly in an entirely different space in the book’s last chapter, with Patrick fallen out of love with Seinfeld and the two divorced. Patrick suspects that her husband always wanted to be in porn, and used her to achieve this fantasy:

Evan achieved his goal, but in the end I suffered. He was the dominating male who ran my life, and in that I lost a lot of myself. He was living the dream–he was going to bed with Tera Patrick at night and going to work in the morning and fucking another girl. I wanted a husband for life who only loved and wanted me. I wasn’t living my dream.

Again: are we just playing a role when we submit, or are we actually submitting?

This is all there in Nicki Brand, who is a submissive throughout the movie, yet who gives the orders to Max Renn, commands which he always obeys, including the final one to destroy himself. Again, we have the question of whether the power is truly our own. The image of Nicki Brand gives these orders, yet this image is manipulated first by Barry Convex, and later, presumably, by Bianca O’Blivion. Bianca is the other powerful woman in the story, yet she sees herself as only exercising her father’s will – “I am my father’s screen.”

If we might see Jenna Massoli’s life as part of a broken symmetry, the unsheltered life in the wake of a collapsed universe, then her own father’s life might be its mirroring arc. As said, Larry Massoli, Jenna’s father, is easily the most interesting character in the book. Where she lives seemingly outside of any state, he worked as its servant, a military advisor in Vietnam before the United States had officially entered the war54. Later, his job is to organize and train fighters to suppress the Simba rebellion in the Congo. Something there changes him. “It’s interesting because when you first go over you try to be so righteous,” he says in one of the book’s interviews with the Massoli family. “I grew up with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and they never shot anybody in the back. It was the white hats against the black hats. You have to do everything fair.” I’m very sympathetic to this man, and I’m not sure what I would see if I were to look closely at what took place where he was in Vietnam, or more crucially, what he says took place in Simba in response to his own side suffering massacres: “I would come up to a village and, instead of going house to house, I would level the whole place…We went from village to village killing them all. We just didn’t care. We didn’t care.” One is struck by this entire passage, gone somehow unnoticed, perhaps since this is a book about pornography and therefore nothing it says about war or America is to be given thoughtful consideration. This phrase, especially: “When I got to Africa I still had some humanity left.”55 When Larry Massoli returns, it takes him a decade to fit back into society. Like Freddie Quell in The Master, he turns to Scientology for structure and comfort; they get him a job at a Las Vegas TV station56. His dear wife dies of cancer when Jenna is two, the woman Jenna’s memoirs is dedicated to, and who continued to dominate their lives, in memory. Afterwards, Larry Massoli decides to do “what I had always wanted to do. I became this big crusader asshole. Because I couldn’t save your mother, I was going to save the world.” It’s when he refuses to look the other way or take a bribe during a war between two bordellos in Vegas that there are the kidnapping threats and a contract is put out on his life. Most important business in Jameson’s book is handled unofficially, and Larry Massoli settles this unofficially as well. He goes out to the brothel owned by those who threatened his family and put out a hit on his life, drives his patrol car through the front door, and empties two clips of a Thompson submachine gun into their bar. “I want you fuckers to stop fucking with my family.” Problem solved57.

After this, he enters a descent, a dark mirrored image of his previous life. He ends up on the run with his son, Tony, and out of contact with Jenna after another contract is put out on their lives, having to do with some other Vegas business that goes awry. He does acid with his kids. He does coke with Jenna and Tony. When they all do coke together, Jenna looks over at Tony and says, “Go, Dad.” Larry: “I completely reversed myself from being the self-righteous stupid ass that I was to a psycho.” Jenna: “Get down with your bad self, Dad.”58 He ends up dating a stripper, running a strip club with his brother where his daughter is a feature dancer, and smoking meth. Larry: “You know what? I don’t miss any drug. But the only drug I ever liked was crank. It’s the best drug on the planet, but smoking it. Not sniffing it.”59 He had left the world of heroic duty, whatever might be underneath, for his daughter’s world, a place of raw anarchy.

Tony: …it’s always been us against the world…

Jenna: That’s right.

Larry: …and it always will be.

That I write of these women, Tera Patrick and Jenna Jameson, as being something like sacred objects to be kept away from the profane, when they are in an inherently profane medium, pornography, is not a contradiction. There remains an elevation, a creation of distance, an abstract image to be worshipped, though the profaning of these sacred objects is different than it might be for other celebrities. What profanes the sacred for this kind of performer is anything that erases the distance between themselves and the general population, and these are tied almost entirely to their beauty: age, bad surgery, drugs, desperation, humilation. These all affect other celebrities as well, though they can be humiliated, or profaned, in ways that Jenna Jameson and Tera Patrick cannot, through nabbed nude selfies and sex tapes.

That we might liken fame to this religious phenomenon of mana, and that it should be so prevalent in a secular society, perhaps explains why there are the constant countervailing impulses of making people famous, creating these sacred objects, and profaning these same sacred objects, humiliating the famous. An example of this might be seen in the career of Britney Spears, who was especially suited for the kind of sacred image making that resembles Marilyn Monroe’s. She was seemingly innocent, by which we mean sexually innocent, somehow unconscious of the electric sexuality of her poses, and so we have, literally, the sacred vessel unprofaned, as well as the cryptic quality of her image. This is perhaps best expressed in Chuck Klosterman’s “Bending Spoons with Britney Spears”:

Over the next ninety minutes, I will sit next to a purportedly fully clothed Britney and ask her questions. She will not really answer any of them. Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton: Regardless of the evidence, she does not waver. “Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. “But look what you’re wearing right now,” I say, while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox. “This is just a skirt and a top,” she responds. It is not that Britney Spears denies that she is a sexual icon, or that she disputes that American men are fascinated with the concept of the wet-hot virgin, or that she feels her success says nothing about what our society fantasizes about. She doesn’t disagree with any of that stuff, because she swears she has never even thought about it. Not even once.

“That’s just a weird question,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’s strange, and I don’t think about things like that, and I don’t want to think about things like that. Why should I? I don’t have to deal with those people. I’m concerned with the kids out there. I’m concerned with the next generation of people. I’m not worried about some guy who’s a perv and wants to meet a freaking virgin.”

And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize.

Or maybe both.

A blunt contrast to this attitude can be found in Tera Patrick’s Sinner Take All:

Is it weird to think that people you know and people you meet have seen your porn and masturbate to you?
–MIKE, 23, VAN NUYS

Yeah, it’s a little weird to know that someone talking to me has seen my innermost parts and I haven’t seen theirs. But it’s not weird that they masturbate to me. They also masturbate to Cameron Diaz and Carmen Electra and Jessica Alba and the girl at the grocery store. Men are just visual. I’m no different, except they have a little bit more to masturbate to, they see a little bit more of me. It’s just humbling.

When we speak of this unprofaned innocence, we end up speaking almost exclusively about Britney Spears’ image, one that allows the viewer to project a multiplicity of things that may not be there. Such a phenomenon takes place in a recent article on her Vegas show, “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It is a very good article, one where the author never actually interviews Spears, but discusses her image alone, in the preparation time up to this premiere. She speaks to one woman who became a fan when Spears shaved her head. “She was just saying fuck you to the world over and over. This was who I knew she was,” says the fan. “In the early 2000s, she was a phony. This was really her.”60 The obvious question is: are you sure? Is it not possible that she simply had a nervous breakdown? That perhaps whatever we, the public, see of her, is always phony, always false, out of the celebrity’s own emotional necessity. “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomology of Fame” by Donna Rockwell and David C. Giles (I came across this study via the Alice Robb piece, “The Four Stages of Fame: How Celebrities Learn to Accept — and Regret — Their Popularity”), describes one survival strategy: “The celebrity copes with intense public scrutiny through character-splitting. He or she divides into two identities by contriving a celebrity entity, a new self presentation in the “public sphere.” Arguably, there are people whose private personality works extraordinarily well as a public one, an enigma never to be resolved, a riddle that cannot be answered, under which there is nothing. Spears is asked over and over again, “What do people not know about you?”, and “Miss American Dream” treats the answer, “Really that I’m pretty boring,” as a defensive gesture when it perhaps is not61. The image alone implies that this cannot be the full answer, that the enigma cannot be unending, when it may well be62.

The metaphors of Videodrome have such a variety of meanings because there is so little to restrict any and almost all interpretations. The character of Nicki Brand is a blank, and that’s what makes her image so beguiling, and the public character of Britney Spears is a blank as well, making her image equally powerful. We are left to guess at whether shaving her head is a nervous breakdown or an expression of strength, whether the song “Work, Bitch” embodies the sadistic grinding of life now, or whether it’s a subtle rebellion against all these forces. The video of “Work, Bitch” features Britney dominating a group of dancers in leather and gimp masks, holding them fast in leashes, whipping one like Max Renn whipped a TV. We might read whatever we wish into either image, with nothing in the characters to guide us. This image might be provocation for laughs, it might be ironic, it might be sincere. Britney Spears was a sacred object and everything was done to try to profane her, to humiliate her, yet she has remained sacred anyway. She has kept her power, and now she’ll exercise it. She’s in control. It’s awesome.

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

The fan in “Miss American Dream” who loved her post-breakdown is the only one who ends up not liking the Vegas show. This fan, a dominatrix, compared it to the time she threw a party where she had to hire a prostitute who clearly didn’t want to be there. She had a vacant look in her eyes that killed the whole vibe, and Britney had the same look63. Again, I wonder: what is the difference between Britney’s enigmatic look and her vacant one? We might see whatever we wish, just as we might read life or death in the eyes of Nicki Brand. The apotheosis of being able to read whatever we want is when anything human no longer exists, and the image remains as a riddle to be puzzled over infinitely, something like Marilyn Monroe. One tradition described in Durkheim is the use of tattoos to mark someone as being affiliated with a totem worshipped by their clan; another is the idea of a mythic ancestor who is a protecting genius, a protecting spirit64. Megan Fox used to carry a tattoo of what might be thought of a mythic ancestor, giving an explanation in “The Self-Manufacture of Megan Fox” by Lynn Hirschberg, which coheres well with these ideas:

On her right forearm, Fox has an intricate tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. Although she has read biographies of Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and other movie-star icons, Fox is particularly fascinated by Monroe. While Gardner led a wild life, her work is forgotten. Monroe created a legacy: her persona is instantly recognizable. It’s not a character she played in a particular movie like, say, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Monroe was her own brand before branding existed.

One might note that word which perfectly matches a character’s last name, suggesting it’s not arbitrary: Nicki Brand. Yet Fox does not keep this tattoo, perhaps because this spirit does not protect at all, it’s an image whose eternality is connected with its own creator’s early self-annihilation. It’s almost entirely gone in the infamous piece, “Megan Fox Saves Herself” by Steve Marche: “All that remains of Marilyn is a few drops of black against skin that is the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters,” and [Fox] says why: “I started reading about her and realized that her life was incredibly difficult. It’s like when you visualize something for your future. I didn’t want to visualize something so negative.” Marche took a great deal of flack for invoking the idea of Aztec sacrifices in connection with celebrity (say, “Esquire’s Interview with Megan Fox Is the Worst Thing Ever Written” by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete), yet I don’t think there’s anything flawed or foolish in finding connections between our idol worship and that of the past, that the similarities compel you to look in such areas.

After she erased the tattoo, Fox would compare Monroe to one of her contemporaries. “She wasn’t powerful at the time. She was sort of like Lindsay. She was an actress who wasn’t reliable, who almost wasn’t insurable…. She had all the potential in the world, and it was squandered.” Despite being a sound assessment, in a conflict averse industry, even this mild claim required self-censure65. A recent story, “Bungalow 89” by James Franco, describes an actress who very much resembles Lindsay Lohan, and even carries the name “Lindsay Lohan”. The same countervailing factors mentioned earlier took place in this woman’s life. We want you famous. We want you sacred. We want you wasted. We want you naked. We want you humiliated. We want you destroyed. The sacred is profaned, it ceases to be sacred, and the interest ends. That this “Lindsay Lohan” has none of the magnetism of the central character of the well-known piece, “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie” by Stephen Rodrick, is because it’s not enough for fiction to evoke the real-life character, it must also re-create the essence of their potent beguiling qualities. In this case, it is the mixture of the actress’s incredible talents and her self-destructiveness, and this, the story does not convey, giving only a few squalid details that would make the story go completely unnoted if the author and his subject were untouched by our modern mana. There is one line, however, that contains great insight, of especial value here, a piece of direction given by Nicolas Winding Refn to Franco. “Less is more; nothing is everything.”

(Images from Videodrome and Prince of Darkness copyright Universal Pictures, images from Naked Lunch copyright 20th Century Fox, images from Blue Velvet copyright De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. Artwork from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Bernard Chang.)

(On July 15th, some small edits were made: the section about Tera Patrick and submission, and moving the Chuck Klosterman excerpt from a footnote to the main text. On July 16th, some further very small clarifying edits were made, mainly to the paragraph dealing with control and Nicki Brand. On April 16, 2015, this post underwent a copy edit. On April 18, 2015, the gif of Max slapping Nicki, then Bridey was added. On April 23, 2015, still images of the vision from John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness were replaced with a gif of same, and various supplemental gifs made from clips of Videodrome were added. On May 18, 2015, footnote #1, referencing William Empson, was added.)

FOOTNOTES

1 This tension is an old one and stated more eloquently in William Empson’s classic, The Seven Types of Ambiguity:

Critics, as barking dogs on this view, are of two sorts: those who merely relieve themselves against the flower of beauty, and those, less continent, who afterwards scratch it up. I myself, I must confess, aspire to the second of these classes; unexplained beauty arouses an irritation in me, a sense that this would be a good place to scratch; the reasons that make a line of verse likely to give pleasure, I believe, are like the reasons for anything else; one can reason about them; and while it nay be true that the roots of beauty ought not to be violated, it seems to me very arrogant of the appreciative critic to think that he could do this, if he chose, by a little scratching.

2 From “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211”:

INTERVIEWER
When did you encounter the Beats?

GIBSON
More or less the same time I found science fiction, because I found the Beats when the idea of them had been made sufficiently mainstream that there were paperback anthologies on the same wire rack at the bus station. I remember being totally baffled by one Beat paperback, an anthology of short bits and excerpts from novels. I sort of understood what little bits of Kerouac were in this thing-I could read him-but then there was William S. Burroughs and excerpts from Naked Lunch I thought, What the heck is that? I could tell that there was science fiction, somehow, in Naked Lunch. Burroughs had cut up a lot of pulp-noir detective fiction, and he got part of his tonality from science fiction of the forties and the fifties. I could tell it was kind of like science fiction, but that I didn’t understand it.

3 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

“It’s a limited kingdom,” Cronenberg says with a proud smile, “but it’s mine. One of the reasons Burroughs excited me when I read him was that I recognized my own imagery in his work,” he says. “It sounds only defensive to say, ‘I was already thinking of a virus when I read that!’ But there is a recognition factor. That’s why I think you start to feel like you’re vibrating in harmony with someone else. It’s the recognition, not that they introduced you to something that was completely unthought of by you.

4 From Neuromancer, the witty point made in the description of the Sprawl is to liken this physical entity to an electronic one, so that even though the Sprawl and the Matrix are separate, they merge in their likenesses.

The Matrix:

A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void … The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy.

The Sprawl:

Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.

Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta . . .

5 From “Mr. Mike’s America: A Comic’s Trek with SNL’s First Head Writer” by Paul Slansky:

O’Donoghue counters with one that Belushi used to tell about Adam and Eve. He doesn’t remember the setup, but the punch line has Eve washing her private parts in the river and God shouting down, “You asshole! Now all the fish are gonna smell like that!”

“American humor is a really angry rube humor,” O’Donoghue says. “Very mean and aggressive. I’ve always liked American jokes.”

6 Some sense of the place can be found in the very good biography of the author, Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs by Ted Morgan:

Tangier being by definition a place where everything was freely bought and sold, it gained a reputation for wickedness. In his widely syndicated column, “As I Was Saying,” Robert Ruark wrote in 1950 that “Sodom was a church picnic and Gomorrah a convention of Girl Scouts” compared to Tangier, which “contained more thieves, black marketeers, spies, thugs, phonies, beachcombers, expatriates, degenerates, characters, operators, bandits, bums, tramps, politicians, and charlatans” than any place he’d ever visited.

In 1955, Burroughs began to see that Tangier could serve as a model for the setting of his novel, which he called “Interzone.” Tangier was as much an imaginative construct as a geographical location, a metaphor for limbo, for a dead-end place, a place where everyone could act out his most extreme fantasies. On one level, Tangier was a reconstruction of the world in a small place.

7 From “Cronenberg Videodrome Intro” (from 3:23-4:00 in the clip):

Speaking of Toronto, by the way, Roberto Benigni, who did the movie Life is Beautiful, italian film-maker…when he came to Toronto, and I met him…of course, this is when he won his Oscar for Life is Beautiful…he immediately got on his knees and started to kiss my feet, my shoes. “Great, Roberto.” Then he got up, and he said: “Toronto. I was terrified to come to Toronto. Because all I knew of it was from your films.”

8 From Naked Lunch:

Techniques of Sending were crude at first. Fadeout to the National Electronic Conference in Chicago. The Conferents are putting on their overcoats . . . The speaker talks in a flat shopgirl voice:

“In closing I want to sound a word of warning . . . The logical extension of encephalographic research is biocontrol; that is, control of physical movement, mental processes, emotional reactions and apparent sensory impressions by means of bioelectric signals injected into the nervous system of the subject.”

“Louder and funnier!” The Conferents are trooping out in clouds of dust.

“Shortly after birth a surgeon could install connections in the brain. A miniature radio receiver could be plugged in and the subject controlled from State-controlled transmitters.”

Dust settles through the windless air of a vast empty hall-smell of hot iron and steam; a radiator sings in the distance . . . The Speaker shuffles his notes and blows dust off them . . .

“The biocontrol apparatus is prototype of one-way telepathic control. The subject could be rendered susceptible to the transmitter by drugs or other processing without installing any apparatus. Ultimately the Senders will use telepathic transmitting exclusively . . . Ever dig the Mayan codices? I figure it like this: the priests-about one percent of population-made with one-way telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when . . . A telepathic sender has to send all the time. He can never receive, because if he receives that means someone else has feelings of his own could louse up his continuity. The Sender has to send all the time, but he can’t ever recharge himself by contact. Sooner or later he’s got no feelings to send. You can’t have feelings alone. Not alone like the Sender is alone-and you dig there can only be one Sender at one place-time . . . Finally the screen goes dead . . . The Sender has turned into a huge centipede . . . So the workers come in on the beam and burn the centipede and elect a new Sender by consensus of the general will . . . The Mayans were limited by isolation . . . Now one Sender could control the planet . . . You see control can never be a means to any practical end . . . It can never be a means to anything but more control . . . Like junk . . .”

9 From Naked Lunch:

Blast of trumpets: The Man is carried in naked by two Negro Bearers who drop him on the platform with bestial, sneering brutality . . . The Man wriggles . . . His flesh turns to viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede. Waves of unknown stench fill the room, searing the lungs, grabbing the stomach . . .

The death of Barry Convex in Videodrome:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

10 From Naked Lunch:

The boy felt a silent black clunk fall through his flesh. The Sailor put a hand to the boy’s eyes and pulled out a pink scrotal egg with one closed, pulsing eye. Black fur boiled inside translucent flesh of the egg.

The Sailor caressed the egg with nakedly inhuman hands-black-pink, thick, fibrous, long white tendrils sprouting from abbreviated finger tips.

Death fear and Death weakness hit the boy, shutting off his breath, stopping his blood. He leaned against a wall that seemed to give slightly. He clicked back into junk focus.

11 An excerpt from Naked Lunch, when a woman has sex with a character who’s just been killed in a hanging:

She locks her hands behind Johnny’s buttocks, puts her forehead against him, smiling into his eyes she moves back, pulling him off the platform into space . . . His face swells with blood . . . Mark reaches up with one lithe movement and snaps Johnny’s neck . . . sound like a stick broken in wet towels. A shudder runs down Johnny’s body . . . one foot flutters like a trapped bird . . . Mark has draped himself over a swing and mimics Johnny’s twitches, closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out . . . Johnny’s cock springs up and Mary guides it up her cunt, writhing against him in a fluid belly dance, groaning and shrieking with delight . . . sweat pours down her body, hair hangs over her face in wet strands. “Cut him down, Mark,” she screams. Mark reaches over with a snap knife and cuts the rope, catching Johnny as he falls, easing him onto his back with Mary still impaled and writhing . . . She bites away Johnny’s lips and nose and sucks out his eyes with a pop . . . She tears off great hunks of cheek . . . Now she lunches on his prick . . . Mark walks over to her and she looks up from Johnny’s half-eaten genitals, her face covered with blood, eyes phosphorescent . . . Mark puts his foot on her shoulder and kicks her over on her back . . . He leaps on her, fucking her insanely . . . they roll from one end of the room to the other, pinwheel end-over-end and leap high in the air like great hooked fish.

“Let me hang you, Mark . . . Let me hang you . . . Please, Mark, let me hang you!”

12 From Naked Lunch, Bill Lee killing Hauser and O’Brien:

I squirted a thin jet of alcohol, whipping it across his eyes with a sideways shake of the syringe. He let out a bellow of pain. I could see him pawing at his eyes with the left hand like he was tearing off an invisible bandage as I dropped to the floor on one knee, reaching for my suitcase. I pushed the suitcase open, and my left hand closed over the gun butt-I am right-handed but I shoot with my left hand. I felt the concussion of Hauser’s shot before I heard it. His slug slammed into the wall behind me. Shooting from the floor, I snapped two quick shots into Hauser’s belly where his vest had pulled up showing an inch of white shirt. He grunted in a way I could feel and doubled forward. Stiff with panic, O’Brien’s hand was tearing at the gun in his shoulder holster. I clamped my other hand around my gun wrist to steady it for the long pull-this gun has the hammer filed off round so you can only use it double action-and shot him in the middle of his red forehead about two inches below the silver hairline. His hair had been grey the last time I saw him. That was about 15 years ago. My first arrest. His eyes went out. He fell off the chair onto his face. My hands were already reaching for what I needed, sweeping my notebooks into a briefcase with my works, junk, and a box of shells. I stuck the gun into my belt, and stepped out into the corridor putting on my coat.

The narrator’s exit:

I hung up and took a taxi out of the area . . . In the cab I realized what had happened . . . I had been occluded from space-time like an eel’s ass occludes when he stops eating on the way to Sargasso . . . Locked out . . . Never again would I have a Key, a Point of Intersection . . . The Heat was off me from here on out . . . relegated with Hauser and O’Brien to a landlocked junk past where heroin is always twenty-eight dollars an ounce and you can score for yen pox in the Chink laundry of Sioux Falls . . . Far side of the world’s mirror, moving into the past with Hauser and O’Brien . . . clawing at a not-yet of Telepathic Bureaucracies, Time Monopolies, Control Drugs, Heavy Fluid Addicts:

“I thought of that three hundred years ago.”

13 From “Which Is the Fly and Which Is the Human?” by Lynn Snowden, hosted on Reality Studio: A William S. Burroughs Community:

And in which scene, Cronenberg wants to know, does he actually show a horror of female genitalia? I point to Videodrome when James Woods looks on in fear as he grows an enormous vaginalike slit in his abdomen. “He seems to like it!” Cronenberg laughs. “It’s almost like he’s proud of it and happy to have it!” Yeah, and then he loses a gun in it? Isn’t that highly symbolic of a well-known male fear? “Well, I’ve known some women who thought they lost their Tampax and were just as freaked out as anybody else.”

He tells a story from the making of Videodrome, when Woods is forced to spend days with rubber appliances glued to his chest to attain the previously mentioned orifice. “And he turns to Debbie Harry and says, ‘When I first got on this picture, I was an actor. Now I feel like I’m just the bearer of the slit.’ And she said, ‘Now you know what it feels like.’ So I’m forcing him to be the bearer of the slit! Reality is what he perceives it to be.”

14 From “The sex, violence, and new flesh of Videodrome by Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias:

Keith: Videodrome fits snugly between the films Cronenberg made before and the films he made later, but it still feels like a leap forward. I think his early films are terrific, and value them in part because of their crude directness, like the way Shivers literalizes every sexual anxiety drifting around in the midst of the sexual revolution. There’s an elegance to Videodrome that’s absent in the earlier films, though, which I know is a weird thing to say about a movie most famous for putting a sexualized, videotape-hungry orifice in its protagonist’s belly. Yet the film drifts along like a dream from one disturbing episode to another.

The note of unconscious creation is sounded in an earlier post from a series on The Dissolve (other than the two listed here, there is the third in the series, “Kill your television (before it kills you)” by Keith Phipps) devoted to this movie, “The prescient analog nightmare of Videodrome” by Scott Tobias:

But the key to Videodrome‘s prescience is that Cronenberg isn’t interested in being prescient at all. He’s simply turning the present into a nightmare, and that nightmare is what the dark side of progress looks like. At the height of the VHS era, when the illicit pleasures of the movies-and the outlands of cable television-could be indulged, without shame, from the privacy of one’s own home, Cronenberg starts with that desire and watches it grow. Here, that means following one man’s quest to find the limits of what’s possible and go beyond it, to where the television isn’t just transmitting a signal, but is an active partner and biological component, “the retina of the mind’s eye.” As brainy as Videodrome is-like Cronenberg’s work in general-the film has an intuitive, id-driven quality, one that transcends logic by creating its own.

15 Although the sentence refers to it as a “roman orgy”, I now think its fairer to say that both meetings with Masha have references to the cultures which would influence the separate capitals of the Roman empire. So, we have the eastern “oriental” restaurant, and all the greek elements of the movie – the togas, the laurels, the columns – that would end up in Roman culture. Of course, there is the well known allegation that the roman empire simply took greek culture (art, philosophy, mathematics, etc.), and gave it practical application without any further intellectual development.

16 From “Families Learning of 39 Cultists Who Died Willingly” by B. Drummond Ayres Jr.:

The farewell tape, broadcast by ABC television, was especially strikingly for its upbeat tone, considering what lay ahead for those speaking and peering into the camera. On it, one cult member — none identified themselves — said his death would bring him “just the happiest day of my life.” and added, “I’ve been looking forward for this for so long.”

A woman who appeared to be in her 20’s looked intently into the camera and said, grinning broadly, “We are all choosing of our own free will to go to the next level.”

17 From “Heaven’s Gate: The Sequel” [archive link: https://web.archive.org/web/20180202142644/http://www.laweekly.com/news/heavens-gate-the-sequel-2147951 ] by Joshuah Bearman:

A secretive, itinerant group of self-described monks following the teachings of their leader, who was known simply as DO, they’d recently moved into a 9,000-square-foot mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, which they called “the Monastery” and “the Craft,” and was paid for by members doing Web design and other technical services. The group had many names over the years but by that time had settled on Heaven’s Gate. They’d waited patiently for a sign, and DO thought the sky was now speaking. When another amateur astronomer announced on Art Bell’s conspiracy-minded radio show that he’d taken a picture of Hale-Bopp showing an elongated fuzzy brightness lurking in the tail, word quickly spread in UFO circles that there was an alien spacecraft accompanying the comet. Remote-sensing practitioner Courtney Brown collected clairvoyant “data” that also suggested an extraterrestrial presence. DO’s followers went out and bought a telescope. They couldn’t see the ship themselves, but that wasn’t important. When Hale-Bopp passed too close to Jupiter, and the giant planet’s gravitational pull altered the comet’s orbit so that it would return every 2,000 years, DO became certain: This was their long-awaited “indicator,” perhaps even the star Wormwood described in The Revelation. The group updated its Web site. “RED ALERT” flashed across the top; below came the announcement “HALE-BOPP BRINGS CLOSURE TO HEAVEN’S GATE.”

For years, they’d been hoping to return to the Kingdom of Heaven, which they called “Evolutionary Level Above Human,” or the “Next Level.” Day in, day out, the group – which they always said was not a cult but a “classroom for growing a soul” – had learned to transcend human existence through rigorous discipline. In preparation for the final step of leaving their human bodies, or “exiting their vehicles,” the group assembled uniforms: matching black Nikes and homemade black pants and shirts, each adorned with a custom-made triangular patch that said “HEAVEN’S GATE AWAY TEAM.”

The Exit Videos are so important to Rio that he includes full transcripts in his book. The videos are short; each of the 38 statements (one member chose to say nothing) is less than five minutes long. I watched them all. Instantly noticeable was how similar everyone looks. In preparation for their future lives as immortal, androgynous beings in space, the men and women of Heaven’s Gate were all required to wear matching bowl cuts and baggy, unflattering jump suits.

Equally striking is their uniform serenity. Seated outside, with San Diego’s pleasant spring dawning in the background, every single member calmly explained their enthusiasm for the wondrous existence awaiting them: “I’ve been looking forward to this for so long”; “I couldn’t have made a better choice”; “Thirty-nine to beam up!” Thomas Nichols, who had been a member since 1976 (and was the brother of Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek), said: “I’m the happiest person in the world.”

18 This subhead is taken from How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, which in turn gets it from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet #5”:

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

19 From Goddess by Anthony Summers:

The Greenes watched bemused as Marilyn plunged into their library. She started reading about Napoelon, discovered Josephine, and scooped up every book she could find about her. Supper conversation in the Greene household was dominated for a while by Marilyn enthusing about Josephine and her entourage.

“She was fascinated,” says Amy Greene, “by women who had made it.” Marilyn especially enjoyed learning how Josephine’s friend, Juliette Récamier, who was renowned for her figure, treated a specially commissioned nude statue of herself. As she aged, and her breasts started to droop, she had the marble breasts smashed.

20 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Now among these peoples, above all the particular deities to whom men render a cult, there is a pre-eminent power to which all the others have the relation of derived forms, and which is called wakan. Owing to the preponderating place thus assigned to this principle in the Siouan pantheon, it is sometimes regarded as a sort of sovereign god, or a Jupiter or Jahveh, and travellers have frequently translated wakan by ” great spirit.” This is misrepresenting its real nature gravely. The wakan is in no way a personal being ; the natives do not represent it in a determined form. According to an observer cited by Dorsey, ” they say that they have never seen the wakanda, so they cannot pretend to personify it.” It is not even possible to define it by determined attributes and characteristics. ” No word,” says Riggs,” can explain the meaning of this term among the Dakota. It embraces all mystery, all secret power, all divinity.” All the beings which the Dakota reveres,” the earth, the four winds, the sun, the moon and the stars, are manifestations of this mysterious life and power” which enters into all. Sometimes it is represented in the form of a wind, as a breath having its seat in the four cardinal points and moving everything : sometimes it is a voice heard in the crashing of the thunder, the sun, moon and stars are wakan. But no enumeration could exhaust this infinitely complex idea.

21 This concept is explained earlier in Durkheim:

Among the Iroquois, whose social organization has an even more pronouncedly totemic character, this, same idea is found again; the word orenda which expresses it is the exact equivalent of the wakan of the Sioux. “The savage man,” says Hewitt, “conceived the diverse bodies collectively constituting his environment to possess inherently mystic potence . . . (whether they be) the rocks, the waters, the tides, the plants and the trees, the animals and man, the wind and the storms, the clouds and the thunders and the lightnings,” etc. “This potence is held to be the property of all things . . . and by the inchoate mentation of man is regarded as the efficient cause of all phenomena, all the activities of his environment.”

22 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I was in control-of myself, and the men around me. And I loved it: I loved the attention and the confidence it gave me. Even though I had no idea how to hustle guys for lap dances, I was the new girl, and they all wanted me.

By my last dance of the night, men were crowding around the stage and throwing money at me. It was then that I knew not only could I make it as a stripper, but I could get each and every one of those other girls back for laughing at me.

23 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Crazy Horse Too was the best high-school class I ever took. The subject was social dynamics. It was amazing how the incentive of cash made it so easy to talk to people; before, I’d had no motivation to learn to be polite or carry on a conversation with a guy. They all wanted the same thing anyway. Within weeks at the club, I began to transform from a geeky teenage girl into a money-crazed psycho. And I loved it.

It wasn’t that I discovered some dormant ability to be a natural conversationalist. Instead, I learned to be an actress, because I was still not outgoing naturally. My job was simply to put up with the poor conversational skills of the customers, to seem open and caring while they talked about themselves. When my turn came to talk, I learned to lie. Everything that came out of my mouth was complete bullshit. I could tell by looking at each person what he wanted to hear. I’d tell him I was studying to be a real-estate agent, a lifeguard, a construction worker. Anything to steer them away from what was really going on in my life.

Since most of the men were into me because I looked so young and innocent, I decided to amplify that. As my grandmother always said, “What you can’t fix, you feature.” So one night I put my hair up in pony-tails, wore little pink shoes, and carried a plastic Barbie purse, which further contrasted me from the hardened girls.

24 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“When a guy comes into a club, most girls come up to him and say, ‘Do you want a dance?'” she told me. “That’s the last thing you should do. Be personable. Make him like you. Talk to him. Ask about his job. Act like you are interested.”

That was lesson one-the basics. Lesson two was to prearrange a deal with the waitress to put water in my shot and extra alcohol in the guy’s, and then order a round of drinks as soon as I sat with him.

“Get him as drunk as possible,” she said, “and rack those songs up.”

25 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

For us, these schemes weren’t only about the money; they were also for the adrenaline rush. It was a high to get the upper hand over a customer. They were dumb, they were drunk, and they deserved it. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Strippers can be vicious. The mentality is that if these guys are going to victimize us, we’re going to totally victimize them right back. It seemed like a fair exchange. And it was character building: I was finally learning to take control of people instead of being so passive in social situations.

26 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

They say that money can’t buy happiness, but that is an oversimplification. It actually depends on how you earn your money. If you’re juggling high-stress investments or managing scores of employees or deluged with phone calls or hiding something from the authorities, life is no fun. But if you can walk into a room, lead on a bunch of guys, and then leave with thousands of dollars in cash in your pocket and no obligation to anyone-not even an obligation to show up to work the next day-life is good. If I wanted to I would splurge on six bottles of Cristal champagne for my friends without a second thought. I wasn’t concerned about the future. My main objective was making money, and I met that objective night after night.

One local politician liked to be dominated and, although I had such a submissive personality naturally, one night I took his beer into the bathroom, peed into it, and then made him drink it. He loved it. The next night, he tipped me with a pink slip: for a brand-new Corvette.

27 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Did you know you were just dancing for Pantera?”

“Really, those assholes were Pantera?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Jack Nicholson?”

“Really, that old weirdo was Jack Nicholson?”

“Did you know you were just dancing for Whitesnake?”

“Really, like I give a crap.”

“Did you know you were just dancing for David Lee Roth?”

“Yeah, what a letdown. I used to have wet dreams over him. But he was rude, irritating, and babbled incoherently the whole time. And my friend Carrie just left the club with him. I’ve lost all respect for both of them.”

28 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Next, she put me on all fours for a butt shot and asked me to turn my head back to look at the camera. But since my head looked teeny in comparison to my ass in that position, she asked me to bend my body so that my face and my ass were the same distance from the camera and both in focus. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It was such a challenge to look sexy and relaxed while manipulating my body into the various uncomfortable contortions Julia was running me through. Even for what Julia considered the simplest pose, like looking over my shoulder with my back to the camera, I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped. When I see those photos now, it seems obvious that the sexy pout I thought I was giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain.

29 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

STEP THREE

Teenager becomes a stripper.

REASON

Work, money, and approval of boyfriend.

STEP FIVE

Teenager starts acting in soft-core all-female adult movies.

REASON

Revenge.

30 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Randy, who of course volunteered to be the man in the shoot, was a decent guy. He was a little old and had the fashion sense of a homeless wrestler, but I didn’t have to touch him if I didn’t want to.

31 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Usually, he just ripped a strip of foil off a cigarette pack, and inhaled the smoke through a sliced-up straw. But one night around 4 A.M., Jack and some of his friends came over and none of them had any cigarettes. So someone came up with the bright idea of unscrewing a lightbulb in the kitchen. They heated the base of the lightbulb until the glue on it melted, then they pulled off the metal base. After emptying the bulb, they drilled a hole in the top and stuffed a little meth inside. They heated the side of the bulb with a lighter and smoked out of the hole where the metal used to be. I just stood and watched the whole thing. It was a beautiful process, and the smoke smelled so sweet. When Jack offered me a hit, I decided to try it. It couldn’t hurt to do it just one time.

I inhaled a little, and the smoke filled my lungs. Unlike pot or even cigarettes, it was so smooth I could hardly feel it. When I exhaled, a thin three-foot-long column of smoke escaped from my lips. Everything seemed to move in slow motion, and then someone pressed fast forward. My heart felt like a woodpecker was inside, hammering hard enough to burst through my chest at any moment.

After that, I never wanted to snort meth again. Smoking it was amazing. At first, I only smoked it when Jack was around because he was the only one who knew the mechanics of the whole foil and straw contraption. But since I had no other challenges in my life at the moment, I set my mind to figuring out how to do it for myself. And once I did, smoking meth became a daily pastime. The high was more dreamy and intense, but it didn’t last as long. Every ten minutes I wanted another hit, so I constantly asked Jack for more.

32 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, two of the steps in her career:

Throughout the photo shoot, they told me, “Jenna, relax. Let the tension out of your face.” I was clenching my teeth so hard from the crystal. Even more embarrassing, in certain poses my bones were sticking out so badly that they had to artfully drape my clothes over them so that I wouldn’t repulse readers. There were no magazines for guys with fetishes for anorexic meth freaks at the time.

I vacuumed so much that the carpets were actually disintegrating. The house looked perfect, but if it seemed too perfect, then I had to rearrange all the furniture to make the place seem more natural. I must have organized the frigging bathroom cupboards a thousand times, sorting each item according to size or function or owner or frequency of use-all in the same night.

Some girls who get high pick at their skin all night. I was not a picker. I was a maker. I was constantly amazed by the innovative and profound avant-garde artwork I could bring to life with a glue gun. My pieces should have been hanging somewhere, like a mental institution. Though I was infamous amongst Jack’s friends for making papier-mâché dragons in the closet all night, my greatest creations were my self-collages. I would go through adult magazines and cut my pictures from the phone-sex ads in the back. Then I’d glue them to a piece of paper and stick funny little phrases from Cosmopolitan below them, like, “Is it a do or a don’t?” “What procedures have you had done?” or “7 ways to make him beg for more.” Then I’d pick up my little handheld poker video game and play it all night, until my hands literally bled.

33 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Afterward, I spent twenty-four hours packing ten suitcases, because I knew Cannes was a big deal and I wanted to be prepared for anything. They were bringing over two other girls, Juli Ashton (a former high school Spanish teacher) and Kaylan Nicole (the reigning queen of anal at the time), both of whom were more experienced and popular than I was. As catty as it sounds, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself over these chicks. But it was going to be hard, because I was trying to learn from them at the same time. They had realized that with their beauty, boobs, and status, the rules that applied to the rest of the world didn’t apply to them. They had the attitude that they could do absolutely anything they wanted.

34 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The minute we got off the plane, we were in another world. It was one I’d dreamed about since I was a little girl, imagining what it would be like to be an international jet-setting model. In fact, it was wilder than my dreams. Flashbulbs went off everywhere. The paparazzi screamed and fought to take pictures of me, even though they had no idea who I was. It was so overwhelming and disorienting being pushed through the admiring crowd toward a waiting limo. I knew, for the first time, what an actual celebrity must feel like. I had only been playing at being one, but I now felt it was within my grasp.

35 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

I walked past a table full of beautiful girls, with Wesley Snipes sitting smack in the middle of them all. He waved me over.

“So you’re the reporter from the E! Channel.” He smiled. “Why don’t you join us?”

Hesitantly, I sat down next to him, and all the other girls at the table shot me dagger looks. He was trying to get in their pants; they were trying to get in his pants; and I was confused. “So,” he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “do you like it up the ass?”

Being a porn star, I was used to such questions. But Wesley had no idea I was a porn star. Either way, I was offended.

Anal sex is an exchange of power. And every man I’ve ever met loves the idea of dominating a woman by pushing his massive dick into her tight sphincter so that she loses control.

For me to allow a man to have anal sex with me, I must have trust first. Because to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to give yourself completely to your partner. And that’s why, despite the fact that it is practically an industry standard to have anal sex in every sex scene, I’ve never done it in a film.

36 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

When it was all over, he wrapped his naked body around mine. Instantly I stiffened. I hate cuddling. When I’m hot and sweaty and sticky, the last thing I want to do is be pressed up against something else that’s hot and sweaty and sticky. I pulled away, and he looked hurt.

37 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

“Why don’t you just stay and cuddle?” he asked.

“Did you just say the c-word?!”

I don’t cuddle, but I lay with him for a little while longer and listened to him talk about religion. Then I made my escape. Rod was still waiting in my room for me.

38 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

And he wanted to fuck me in the ass a little too often for my comfort. Every time we were naked, he’d be going for my butt like a rat to cheese.

39 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

It has become a constant issue for me. I’ve been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to do anal. But even if I walked away with $300,000 for having done it, I would also be taking away the feeling that I gave up something that was really important to me. This is almost embarrassing for a porn star to admit, but I’ve only given that up to three men, all of whom I really loved. Doing it on camera would be compromising myself. Sex, on the other hand, is something I’m comfortable giving up-albeit not often-to a stranger in a one-night stand. The fact is, I’ve only had about fifteen different male partners on camera.

40 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

41 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, artwork by Bernard Chang:

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

David Cronenberg's Videodrome Bad Religion

42 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

A lot of guys want to get into porn to get laid. What are your thoughts on that?

Getting into porn is a death sentence. As a male performer you are doomed to be single for the rest of your life. A contract girl does eight to ten scenes per year. A guy performs seven to ten scenes per week at least. The number one performers do fifteen scenes per week. So what girl is going to go out with a guy who’s pounding fifteen other girls every week? No one. The guys don’t have any social life, because they are on set so much. And when they do go out, they are like lepers. Girls won’t touch them. Even girls in the industry avoid them, because it’s bad for their career to get stuck having sex with just one guy on camera.

43 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Every night became my birthday. I realized I could pull in more money if I told them that I blew off the chance to celebrate my birthday because it was so important to me to be there dancing for them instead. “So I’m here, happy birthday to me,” I thought. “That’s right, fuckers. Cough it up.”

44 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The Pink Poodle was a wild place, an all-nude strip theater that was always at the epicenter of some major scandal. The girls there were among the raunchiest performers I’ve seen onstage in this country. Nikki and I weren’t willing to do much more than get fucked-up and fall all over each other onstage, so our tips suffered accordingly.

The only thing that redeemed the night was meeting Mr. 187-a former marine, an erstwhile middleweight boxer, and the sergeant-at-arms for the West Coast chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Mr. 187 was a badass motherfucker who was angry at the world and enjoyed nothing more than snapping a guy’s arm for looking at him wrong. So naturally, we took him on tour with us.

45 “Anatomy of a Murder” by Will Harper, describes the killing at The Pink Poodle. “Hells Angels member gunned down at San Jose funeral” by Sam Webby and Tracey Kaplan is about the killing of Steve Tausan aka Mr. 187 at a funeral.

46 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

We were as destructive-and self-destructive-as a rock band. With both of us at the top of our game as porn stars, it was our greatest-hits tour. Most guys will watch a favorite porn clip more than they watch Star Wars or Zoolander, so when they saw us standing three inches from their faces, they went insane. Hundreds of people would chant our names before each show and fight to get close to the stage.

We brought feature dancing to a new level: Where some girls were getting $250 a show, we were getting $5,000, simply because we had the balls to demand it. Add to that Polaroids, tips, and merchandise, and we were pulling in over $100,000 for a three-night engagement. We insisted on five-star hotels with room service, limos to and from the club, and at least two security guards accompanying us at all times.

47 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: You always lived in great houses. You always had swimming pools. You always had great cars. You always dressed the best.

Jenna: I don’t know about that, Dad.

Larry: To me you did. At least, as much as a $40,000 a year policeman could give you. I guess Florida was awful.

Jenna: Ugh, Florida was ghetto.

Tony: I remember going to school and it was so bad. There was a barbed-wire fence around the courtyard. All the tricycles were chained to a pole in the middle so the kids wouldn’t steal them. So the only way you could play with them was if everyone got on their tricycles in unison because they were all tied together. I was in shock. I sat back and went, “Oh my God.”

48 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: Remember that guy who tried to burglarize our place? Me and Jenna were at home. I think he knew we were latchkey kids. We thought someone had come onto our little porch area. Then we heard the doorknob wiggle.

Jenna: And Dad and Marjorie didn’t believe us. They thought we were insane.

Jenna: Tony started sleeping with guns under his pillows when he was about six years old. It was insane. Dad would never give him bullets but he gave him little Derringers and shit.

Tony: Yeah, but every time Dad dropped a bullet in the house, I picked it up and kept it in a box. So I was pretty well armed.

49 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: It all started when we were younger and would egg people. Then we decided to take it to a different level.

Jenna: I came up with the idea of the fire extinguisher. I was like, “They’re readily available at every apartment complex. We just gotta go break the glass and take the fire extinguisher, which sets off the fire alarm. But if we get out of there fast enough, we’re fine, right?” So we had a collection of them. And we would go “fog people up,” as we called it.

Tony: I’d call someone over to the car to get directions …

Jenna: … and I’d psssssshhht out of the window. It was great because it’s like a cloud of death. And the people afterward are just coated in white. We would go down to cracktown and see the crack hos on the corner and we’d fog ’em up! I remember one time we got this kid on a skateboard and there was a cop that saw us. We were in this total car chase, and we got away.

50 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Jenna: Yeah, the way I dressed worked in Las Vegas; it didn’t work in Montana. But I was popular with the boys, and I wasn’t going to give that up for these jealous girls in school. So it just got more violent because their boyfriends would leave them for me. There was this one corner that I had to pass on my way to school, and the girls would wait for me there and chase me. They were corn-fed, so they were pretty tough. One girl would get me by the back, and one would punch me in the stomach. They didn’t really hurt me, but Jesus Christ I got the wind knocked out of me. Or they would rip out my hair. During school, they would draw on the back of my shirt with markers, put gum in my hair, stuff like that.

51 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: One day they called me and said, “We are going to put your child in a foster home if you don’t get her to go to school.”

Jenna: Oh, Dad. The worst thing happened in Montana. I never told you but I just can’t talk about it. It was so bad. And that’s why I stopped going to school. So when you told me that, I slipped a gear. I was like, “Okay, these people are threatening my life and trying to send me to a foster home? They want to play a game? Fine! We’ll play a game!” I wasn’t going to take this shit anymore. So I marched into school, and the girl who picked on me the most was leaning into her locker to get a book or something. I walked up full force and, boom, I slammed the locker door so hard and busted her head wide open.

52 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

The job of porn star is not a calling—or even an option—for most women. However, if you make the right decisions and set the right boundaries for yourself, it can be a great living, because you’ll make a lot of money while doing very little work. And you’ll get more experience in front of the camera than any Hollywood actress. Though watching porn may seem degrading to some women, the fact is that it’s one of the few jobs for women where you can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not just in the work environment but as a sexual being. So, fuck Gloria Steinem.

53 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

One local politician liked to be dominated and, although I had such a submissive personality naturally, one night I took his beer into the bathroom, peed into it, and then made him drink it. He loved it. The next night, he tipped me with a pink slip: for a brand-new Corvette.

From “Jenna Jameson: The Interview”:

Q: I was preparing for the interview and noticed that you have been in movies with both men and women. Do you have a preference to do a scene with a gentleman or a female?

They are very different. With men, I am very submissive. With women, I am very dominant. Which is weird. I try not to be dominant, and it would be nice to do a scene where I get my butt kicked. But I always end up being the man in the relationship (laughs). I get to be two different people.

Q: That is ironic, given your personality, I would expect you to be dominant with men as well.

Actually, I am very submissive. I think that has to do with my business, when I get home, it is nice to be a different self.

From “Jenna Jameson – Hotter Than Ever” (NSFW) by Bryan Keith:

Xtreme: I don’t know man, you’d have to tie a tourniquet around me for it not to end. But what do ya think your husband Jay’s biggest turn-on is?

Jenna: Wow, there’s so many. He likes, doggy style, he likes to be the dominant force in sex, which is great because I’m submissive when it comes to having sex with men, so I like a man who can show me who’s boss. And he’s one of those guys, that’s what turns him on…seeing a girl whimper, and I’m a good whimperer.

54 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Jenna: Dad’s had an amazing life. He went into the service right after he graduated high school.

Larry: That was in 1957. I was an, um, advisor for 729 days 16 hours and 27 minutes in Vietnam in the seventh armored division. But who’s counting?

Jenna: It’s hard to believe that you witnessed and participated in such violent scenes.

Larry: I’ll give you an example. I took twenty nuns and some orphans out of a little village sixty clicks southwest of Nha Trang and was waiting for helicopters to pick them up. But we were being followed by North Vietnamese regulars and some Viet Cong. So I placed myself halfway between the helicopters and the tree line. I had my Thompson machine gun on my back and my M14 rifle in my hands. When they came out of the tree line, I just started picking them off. The next day, they found sixty-one bodies that I had killed lying there. And that doesn’t include the bodies the North Vietnamese hauled off into the tree line.

Jenna: He killed all those guys without batting an eyelash, but he was scared of bugs.

55 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Tony: Later, he was sent to Africa to fight against a communist revolution over there.

Larry: The government came to me and said I could finish out my time if I’d organize and train soldiers in the Congo to fight the Simba communist revolution. It’s interesting because when you first go over you try to be so righteous. I grew up with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, and they never shot anybody in the back. It was the white hats against the black hats. You have to do everything fair.

Well, I found out in war the best way to come home alive is to sneak up on people and shoot them. When I got to Africa I still had some humanity left. When we captured the rebels, we would have a trial and then we would pass judgment: we would imprison them, execute them, or send them back to their village. But after four months of walking in the bloody wake of Simba massacres, we flew the black flag. If you ran, you were a Simba rebel. If you stood still, you were a well-disciplined Simba rebel. So we shot everyone. I would come up to a village and, instead of going house to house, I would level the whole place. I would call in the P51 Mustangs. We used Napalm. I had a contingent of howitzers. We went from village to village killing them all. We just didn’t care. We didn’t care.

56 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss, from a letter Larry Massoli sends his daughter when she’s writing the book:

And you don’t know this either, but we became Scientologists for a while. Judy’s brother, Dennis, was always a spiritual seeker. He gave me a job at the TV station and then turned us on to Scientology. He had been on L. Ron Hubbard’s boat with him.

Dennis [his late wife’s brother] found Scientology a little expensive, but it did us a lot of good and made me a little more compassionate and empathetic.

57 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: It was very scary at that time. They had put a contract out on me. I was so worried about the kids. What happened was that a guy named Walter Plankinton had opened a place called the Chicken Ranch, and a couple of cronies from a rival bordello came and burned the place down. So my lieutenant told me, “You are going to get a call to go to the other side of the valley. When you get that call just do what you’re told and wait it out, no matter what happens.”

And I said, “Not on my watch.” So I kept them from getting revenge. I refused to take bribes or turn a blind eye to anything illegal, so everybody wanted to chase me out of town. It was like the Old West out there, and they didn’t want anyone trying to tackle the corruption.

Tony: Remember when we had to go hide out in Johnny Whitmore’s attic?

Jenna: I forgot about that.

Tony: I was sleeping in the dining room at the time, on a day bed. And I heard a crunching on the rocks, so I knew someone was out there. I looked outside and I saw a shadow. So I went to dad’s room. He was married to Marjorie then.

Larry: Oh, Christ, Marjorie. I needed someone to help me with the kids. That was a mistake.

Tony: So I knocked on their door, and Marjorie was like, “Shut the fuck up. Go back to bed.” I looked out the window and saw this guy in a bandanna, and he was wearing gloves and had a brick in his hand. I was so scared I couldn’t breathe. Then the brick came right through the window. And you came running out buck naked and grabbed a Thompson submachine gun and ran through the front door shooting. The gun lit up the night, and all I could hear was the brrrraaaaappp brrrraaaaappp from the machine gun.

Larry: He got away, so I put my uniform on and code three’d it over to the Shamrock, which was one of the brothels that had fire-bombed the Chicken Ranch. I drove the patrol car through the front door and unloaded two clips into the bar with that Thompson submachine gun. Then I said, “I want you fuckers to stop fucking with my family.” And we never had a problem after that.

58 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

Larry: You know, the incident that sticks with me is when we were at the corporate apartment and we did coke. I did it with you, and you looked at Tony and said, “Go, Dad.”

Jenna: Get down with your bad self, Dad.

Larry: That’s exactly what you said. I will never forget that. I completely reversed myself from being the self-righteous stupid ass that I was to a psycho.

59 From How to Make Love Like a Porn Star by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss:

My dad, a former cop, whose sense of righteousness was so strong when I was growing up that he neglected his own children and risked his job to fight corruption on the police force, was now living this squalid life on the margins of society—running away from some sort of trouble in Vegas, dating a stripper, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, smoking the exact same drug he had seen nearly kill his daughter.

Larry: You know what? I don’t miss any drug. But the only drug I ever liked was crank. It’s the best drug on the planet, but smoking it. Not sniffing it.

Jenna: When did you smoke crank?

Larry: When I was managing the strip club. I did just enough to stay high all day.

60 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Andrea is not the real first name of a New York-based dominatrix who is a Britney obsessive. She is very skinny, with long hair, a pointy nose, smiley eyes, and perpetual excitement. We met on BreatheHeavy and I’d asked if we could meet the day of the show. She had texted me to look for her — “I’m in a cowgirl look” — and she was, boots and hat included.

She’s been a Stan (an obsessive fan, a term plucked from Eminem liturgy) since 2003; that was when Britney, to Andrea, became Authenticney, less Bubblegumney and dropping that bullshit wide-eyed Virginey act. It was Meltdowney circa 2008 that sealed the deal for her, though. “Oh, I loved it,” Andrea said. “She was just saying fuck you to the world over and over. This was who I knew she was. In the early 2000s, she was a phony. This was really her.”

61 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

[Britney Spears] was sitting in a room in the semi-dark, slightly hunched over, a little bored, at the tail end of a daylong junket in which TV journalists asked her questions like “What do people not know about you?” (“Really that I’m pretty boring.”) and “What was the craziest rumor you ever heard about yourself?” (“That I died.”) and who her secret famous crush is, a question that she’s been asked for years and years and that she’s been giving the same answer to for years and years (“Brad Pitt”).

Everyone wants her most personal album and her most personal interview ever—we are a nation riveted by Britney’s personhood—and no matter how many times she answers our questions, still she is a whore and a liar and an idiot and a fraud.

Instead she answers the same questions she’s always answered: The crazy rumor, the favorite city to visit, the secret crush (that she died, for Christ’s sake; London, but she’s not sure why; Brad Pitt! Brad Pitt! For the love of god, it’s always Brad Pitt!). They’re gonna try to try you but they can’t deny you.

So now we get nothing, either because she’s wary of us or because she knows that if you’re reading this, your decision has already been made. Now she’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle bound together by a hair extension. Now, the weatherman gets to interview her.

62 I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the tone of this review, and I’ve often been hostile to this writer’s work in the past, but this very point is made in Jody Rosen’s review of the album Britney Jean, “Britney Jean is DOA”:

People who dislike pop music will sometimes point to Spears as Exhibit A — as evidence that pop is soulless industrial product, assembled by committee and performed by singing mannequins. Of all the major pop divas, Spears is the only one who resembles a singing (in her case, “singing”) mannequin. But her body of work is conclusive evidence that great pop — forsooth, art — can result from industrial production. Consider: “…Baby, One More Time,” “Oops!…I Did It Again,” “Toxic,” “Piece of Me,” “Til the World Ends,” “How I Roll.”

These songs are amazing, and they’re amazing not despite but because of Spears’s limitations. Spears has been one of the most reliable record-makers in music by playing to her strengths: by accentuating the synthetic, by making herself a vessel for songwriters’ ideas about celebrity and sex and other juicy topics, and by letting some of the world’s most talented producers treat her voice like sonic Laffy Taffy, a thing to be coated with sugar, dyed garish hues, and stretched into all kinds of preposterous shapes. It should be noted that credit for this aesthetic must go to Spears herself. Whatever she lacks in other areas, Britney has shown exceptional taste and judgment when it comes to what songs to record and release.

Unfortunately, on her eighth album, Spears had a wacky idea: to try to impersonate a sentient she-human. Britney Jean is, per Britney, “my most personal album ever.” The thing about personal albums is that they call for a personality, and a voice to project it. Britney Jean is dead on arrival.

“Miss American Dream” slightly mis-states what the review is reacting against, the nasty quality of the first single, “Work, Bitch”:

On the surface, “Work Bitch” is a bizarre dance song with depressing lyrics.

Vulture published a disgusted review, calling her not just the most boring singer on the planet but “the most boring person,” and “anti-matter in a belly shirt.”

Rosen’s review is not disgusted with the song, but actually likes it:

It has a couple of moments. I happen to like the stentorian career-counseling session “Work, Bitch,” in which Britney affects a bizarre “Euro” accent to bark out boasts and warmed-over RuPaul commands: “Go call the governor / I bring the trouble … You better work, bitch.

63 From “Miss American Dream”, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

The only fan I met who didn’t like the show—and I did meet so many fans—was, if you can believe it, poor Andrea. A few days later we talked on the phone and she told me that Britney had seemed so unhappy to be there that Andrea, in her catsuit and still with her cowgirl hat, almost wanted to leave. Andrea had once thrown a sex party where she’d had to hire prostitutes to have sex with a group of people while she stood over them with a whip. There was this one prostitute who technically did a good job—“She got fucked and sucked, which is all I asked her to do, right?”—but there was something so vacant in the prostitute’s eyes, something so unwilling that it kind of killed the whole thing for Andrea. That’s what this felt like.

64 From Durkheim:

Collective sentiments can just as well become incarnate in persons or formulae: some formulae are flags, while there are persons, either real or niythical, who are symbols. But there is one sort of emblem which should make an early appearance without reflection or calculation: this is tattooing. Indeed, well-known facts demonstrate that it is produced almost automatically in certain conditions. When men of an inferior culture are associated in a common life, they are frequently led, by an instinctive tendency, as it were, to paint or cut upon the body, images that bear witness to their common existence. According to a text of Procopius, the early Christians printed on their skin the name of Christ or the sign of the cross; for a long time, the groups of pilgrims going to Palestine were also tattooed on the arm or wrist with designs representing the cross or the monogram of Christ. This same usage is also reported among the pilgrims going to certain holy places in Italy. A curious case of spontaneous tattooing is given by Lombroso: twenty young men in an Italian college, when on the point of separating, decorated themselves with tattoos recording, in various ways, the years they had spent together. The same fact has frequently been observed among the soldiers in the same barracks, the sailors in the same boat, or the prisoners in the same jail. It will be understood that especially where methods are still rudimentary, tattooing should be the most direct and expressive means by which the communion of minds can be affirmed. The best way of proving to one’s self and to others that one is a member of a certain group is to place a distinctive mark on the body.

For the same reason, the personages who for centuries have been the subject of myths respectfully passed on from mouth to mouth, and periodically put into action by the rites, could not fail to take a very especial place in the popular imagination.

But how does it happen that, instead of remaining outside of the organized society, they have become regular members of it?

This is because each individual is the double of an ancestor. Now when two beings are related as closely as this, they are naturally conceived as incorporated together; since they participate in the same nature, it seems as though that which affects one ought to affect the other as well. Thus the group of mythical ancestors became attached to the society of thé living; the same interests and the same passions were attributed to each; they were regarded as associates. However, as the former had a higher dignity than the latter, this association takes, in the public mind, the form of an agreement between superiors and inferiors, between patrons and clients, benefactors and recipients. Thus comes this curious idea of a protecting genius who is attached to each individual.

65 From “Megan Fox Clarifies Lindsay Lohan-Marilyn Monroe Comparison in Esquire” by Bruna Nessif:

“In the newly released article that I did for Esquire, there is a reference that is made to Lindsay Lohan that I would like to clarify before it snowballs into something silly,” Fox wrote.

“The journalist and I were discussing why I was removing my Marilyn Monroe tattoo, especially since in his opinion, Marilyn was such a powerful and iconic figure for women. I attempted to draw parallels between Lindsay and Marilyn in order to illustrate my point that while Marilyn may be an icon now, sadly she was not respected and taken seriously while she was still living,” she added.

Fox continued, “Both women were gifted actresses, whose natural talent was lost amongst the chaos and incessant media scrutiny surrounding their lifestyles and their difficulties adhering to studio schedules etc. I intended for this to be a factual comparison of two women with similar experiences in Hollywood. Unfortunately it turned into me offering up what is really much more of an uneducated opinion. It was most definitely not my intention to criticize or degrade Lindsay. I would never want her to feel bullied, as she does not deserve that. I was not always speaking eloquently during this interview and this miscommunication is my fault.”

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Brian De Palma’s Blow Out: “Good Scream.”

(Everything I post is to some degree unfinished, but a movie about which so much can be said and so dear to my heart as this one, I will no doubt have more to say about, and so this post might be considered more unfinished than others. An invaluable resource on all things De Palma, which I have already mentioned here is the site De Palma a la Mod; an excellent resource for this specific post was the three hour plus episode devoted to this movie by The Projection Booth podcast, “Episode 140: Blow Out” hosted by Mike White, Rob St. Mary, with guest Jamie Duvall, and featuring interviews with Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, and producer Fred Caruso. The podcast is frequented quoted in the following and I’m grateful for their diligent and in-depth work. SPOILERS for Blow Out, Dressed to Kill, The Fury, The Black Dahlia, Casualties of War, and The Parallax View. Since this is a fairly in-depth examination of this movie, it is assumed that whoever reads it has already seen Blow Out and requires no summary or description of the plot, and none is given.)

Something’s Got to Give had portrayed Marilyn as a shipwreck survivor who has been out of the world for years. She was to ask her rescuers, “Who’s President now?” Told it is Kennedy, she would respond, “Which Kennedy?”

Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers

PAULA
Where were you when Kennedy got shot?

HARRY MOSEBY
Which Kennedy?

Night Moves

SEGISMUND
A dream!
That seem’d as swearable reality
As what I wake in now.

CLOTALDO
Ay-wondrous how
Imagination in a sleeping brain
Out of the uncontingent senses draws
Sensations strong as from the real touch;
That we not only laugh aloud, and drench
With tears our pillow; but in the agony
Of some imaginary conflict, fight
And struggle – ev’n as you did; some, ’tis thought,
Under the dreamt-of stroke of death have died.

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

There came Death expertly threading his graceless bicycle through traffic at the intersection of Wilshire and La Brea where, because of street repair, two westbound Wilshire lanes were funneling into one.

Death so swift! Death thumbing his nose at middle-aged horn honkers.

Death laughing, Screw you, buddy! And you.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

SEGISMUND
In all the shining circuits you have gone
About this theatre of human woe,
What greater sorrow have you gazed upon
Than down this narrow chink you witness still;
And which, did you yourselves not fore-devise,
You registered for others to fulfil!

Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

I face the difficulty that anyone does who writes about one of their great passions, that the insights you have, the details you wish to point out, all an expression of the fervent excitement I have for this movie, these things have already been pointed out, are already well known, and your analysis is ultimately a self-centered demonstration, only of your own devotion, rather than giving off anything of valuable luminescence. I do not think what follows is an entirely well worn path, and I try to avoid the rote or the obvious, but given that this is one of Brian De Palma’s most cherished films among his fans, I no doubt repeat things others have many times before. As always, it carries the value and disadvantage that it is only my view, an idiosyncratic map of a movie that has meant so much to me for many years.

STRONG AS A COBWEB IN THE WIND1

It’s often classed as a conspiracy theory movie, and though this is definitionally correct, it’s also a misrepresentation that might disappoint viewers expecting a creature of this zoological class. The approach of most of this genre of movie is polemical, and the conspiratorial schematic it presents is part of the polemic: such a conspiracy is possible, now. The Parallax View might be the most memorable example of this, attempting to make the implausible plausible, a conspiracy theory without melodrama in music, direction, or characterization, told in the language of social realism; where the assassination of political figures in the United States takes place, a cover-up with the accompanying murder follows, and the very man investigating the conspiracy becomes its patsy, the assassin’s weapon placed in his dead hand. There is the outlining of a plausible schematic, and at the same time the conspiratorial group is invested with powers that verge on the mystic. They are able to travel everywhere, they are near invisible, they can kill whoever they wish, and they are flawless in their actions, never giving themselves away or making a mistake – when they appear to do so in Parallax, they are actually just laying down a trail of breadcrumbs to lead the hero to his doom.

Blow Out inverts this almost immediately; it is not the villains who possess a power that might be considered almost divine, but the hero. Jack Terry goes out into the park to record sounds, and we see him able to hear at vast superhuman distances, the same mechanical gift which gives him entry into the world of the twisting plot that follows. He moves his microphone and picks up what to the viewer’s ears sounds like the leg rubbing clicks of some night insect, yet Jack’s knowledge of sounds is superior to ours, and he already hears something unnatural, mechanical in these insect-like sounds. They are not insect noises at all, but Burke pulling the wire back and forth of his watch, a nervous tic he falls into whenever he waits before pulling one of his acts of subterfuge, and we hear this same sinister noise when he is lying in the car before going into the garage to change the tire, and finally, before killing the prostitute at the train station.

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Blow Out: the sound of the wire in the watch.

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After the sounds of the wire snapping in and out, Jack hears another sound from Burke at extraordinary distance which no one else nearby hears, the crunch of leaves as the man adjusts his position on the ground. The soundman then focuses on the owl, and the two briefly share the sides of the screen, both creatures of superhuman hearing. The owl cocks its head, picking up a sound so faraway it doesn’t even appear on the soundtrack and not even Jack hears it, the senator’s car approaching. The owl then turns its head entirely as the car drives quickly down the road and Terry shifts his attention as well, hearing the squeal of the tires long before the car is anywhere near in view.

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Blow Out: hearing at a distance.

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The other trope of conspiracy movies, unused in Blow Out, is a hero moving along the nodes of the conspiracy before reaching its nexus, the heart, or one of several hearts of american power. This might be the Parallax corporation in Parallax, the top echelons of the CIA in Three Days of the Condor, the White House, no matter – but we have a sense of the hero navigating through the labyrinth and getting closer and closer to a center of the universe, the truth finally unveiled. By contrast, Blow Out begins on the fringes and stays on the fringes, with Jack’s position remaining essentially static. Jack and Sally are portrayed as being on the edges, of being unimportant people, not the Jim Garrison of JFK, but something like a face in the Dallas crowd and a minor dancer at Jack Ruby’s, through the movie’s compositions. There is Jack, on his listening expedition, the camera moving further and further out, till he is an insignificant point in the landscape.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack as a tiny speck on the bridge

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, a small point

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, a smaller point

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bridge, an even smaller point

A similar sequence, after Jack rescues Sally:

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Blow Out: figures in the landscape.

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Jack is in the hospital, after the rescue, and he is sealed off in rooms while the frenzy erupts outside.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - frenzy outside

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack in hospital, frenzy outside

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack smoking in hospital, frenzy outside

Jack is given a condescending point and summoning finger, as if he were a delinquent child, by a cop on behalf of one of the Philadelphia brahmins:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack gets pointed at

Jack and Sally meet for a drink as he tries to persuade her from leaving the city, and we have a prolonged establishing shot where the focus is split between them and the men at the bar.

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Blow Out: Jack, Sally, and the men in the bar.

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There is the obvious culmination of this in the moment where Sally fights for her life, as we shift from the justly famous shot of her screaming in terror with the flag behind her, a woman in trouble whose suffering is briefly made operatic and epic, her screams heard on Jack’s earphones and this is the center point of his life, the point to which he has moved towards and whose effects will radiate out for the rest of his existence – and then, Sally is an unnoticed and indistinct point in the tower as the unhearing crowd celebrates below, as she’s caught under Burke’s wire again:

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Blow Out: a figure in the distance.

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That Jack and Sally remain on the edges of the conspiracy is a function and a necessity of the plot, but it also is very much to do with the position of these characters in society itself. They are part of the overly broad, overly general category “working class”, and though the label is overly vague, there is the obvious marker in both characters, which is that neither goes to university and there appears to have been no expectation that they would get a degree, joining one of the coveted professional classes, of doctors, lawyers, engineers, or tenured professors. Jack’s only recourse for acquiring a technical education is through military service – his family does not have the money for university, and Sally is not surprised that this would be his only option. America is both supposedly a classless society while being very much a country with a class hierarchy, and we can see the prevalence of such a hierarchy by the fact that characters from this class – other than cops, firefighters, and soldiers – rarely appear in movies unaccompanied with a polemical theme about their economic status. The movie must be about bettering themselves, about being someone other than themselves, about acquiring a university education – Blow Out, in contrast, is simply about these characters on their own terms. They are not made stupid, crude, or ugly as an expression of their class, they are not seen solely by those outside of their class, but rather, the movie’s perspective is their own. It’s difficult to conceive of Jack Terry having much interest in a university education, not because he’s unintelligent or incurious, but because his interest is so focused, so specialized around sound technology, that he would rightly wonder what a degree in any field would offer him. That Jack Terry fails by the movie’s end is not because of any lack of education or lack of intelligence, but because he sees the unveiling of the conspiracy as a redemption for the failed police sting, and he wants that redemption so badly that he becomes careless. This sin is not made into a problem or issue of any particular class, but a fatal error possible of every member of the audience.

I have written of an assassination plot and its cover-up, at which Jack and Sally are positioned at the very far fringes, and we now reach the final point which makes Blow Out very distinct from other conspiracy thrillers: there is no conspiracy. The events of the movie are not the result of a convergence of shadowy figures and forces, but the result of only one man, and that’s Burke. He has been given the simple assignment of having Manny Karp take photos of Sally and the governor together, and either by accident or on his own maverick initiative, he commits a murder. Everything that follows, the cover-up, the serial killings, the erasing of Jack’s tapes, the death of Sally, is Burke acting on his own, with campaign manager Jack Manners wanting nothing to do with this out of control lunatic he hired for a very simple piece of campaign sabotage.

The conversation between Burke and Jack Matters, campaign manager for the president:

JACK MATTERS
You were supposed to get some pictures of McRyan, not kill him.

BURKE
I understood the objectives of the operation…I never concurred with them. But I didn’t kill him, it was an accident.

MATTERS
You accidentally shot out the tire of his car!

BURKE
As you may recall, this was my initial plan as proposed at our meeting of June the 6th.

MATTERS
We rejected that plan, don’t you remember?

BURKE
Course I do admit I had to exceed the parameters of my authority somewhat, but I always stayed within an acceptable margin of error. After all, the objective was achieved. He was eliminated from the election.

MATTERS
Burke. I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you. Don’t ever call me again.

BURKE
Just a minute, sir. We’ve got some loose ends. I’ve changed the tire, made it look like a blow out. I’ve erased the sound guy’s tapes, so everybody will think he’s a crackpot. Karp’s disappeared, but I’ll find him. That still leaves the girl. I’ve decided to terminate her, and make it look like one of a series of sex killings in the area. This would completely secure our operation.

MATTERS
WHAT OPERATION!

Brian De Palma's Blow - Burke on the phone

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Matters on the phone

The Projection Booth podcast put together an episode, “Episode 140: Blow Out”, full of vital details on the movie in which they touched on the way information on the conspiracy is conveyed, far different from that in other movies of the genre. Mike White is the co-host, along with Rob St. Mary (fragment is at approximately 24:19-26:12 in the recording):

MIKE WHITE
So, it’s an interesting story of who’s watching who and who knows what when. Because that’s the other thing that I find very interesting about this one is the way we’re being handed information, like I was talking about with the television earlier, which kinda comes back a few times. I mean, there’s Manny, we see him on the TV, and that’s when Jack’s buddy comes in, and turns on the television set for him. But this whole idea of when do we know things versus when Jack knows them? Like, Burke putting the tire, the replacement tire, with the car, Nick Ryan’s car. We know that before Jack knows, and Jack is insisting “Check the tire! Check the tire!”, you know. It’s like, okay, we already know that that’s going on, and then we know as well, because we have Burke saying “I’ve erased all of his tapes,” so they’re going to think he’s crazy, we know that before Jack knows, and we get that amazing scene, of Jack going in, and playing all of his tapes, and having everything coming out blank, and that whole camera move, you know, I don’t wanna say three sixty, because that would imply the camera was in one spot and just turning around, cuz that camera is really exploring the space and going around, throughout the entire room, and just the way we run into Jack as you’re going around clockwise, it’s just a remarkable set piece.

This unveils a crucial aspect of Blow Out, but this is only a partial aspect. It is not simply that the audience knows things before Jack learns of them, but that we know things with certainty, that Jack only hypothesizes about – and of which he never gains hard evidence. Only the audience is able to clearly see that there is no conspiracy, that all the malice which takes place is caused by Burke. For Jack, this is all a cloud of unknowing, on which he projects a vast network which doesn’t exist onto this opaque expanse. “Who’s ever in on this thing has a contacts in the police, because they want McRyan to sink without a trace,” Jack tells Sally. “They don’t want to hear about my gunshot.” There is not Burke alone, but a they: “They have erased my tapes, they’ve made you disappear, and next it’s going to be me.” The asymmetry of information between Jack and the audience begins almost immediately after the accident, when Jack dives into the water to save Sally, at the same time the audience clearly sees Manny Karp move away from his hiding place under the bridge and run away, a figure entirely unseen by Jack.

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Blow Out: Manny Karp under the bridge.

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Blow Out: Manny Karp fleeing the scene.

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By the end of the movie, he still has no idea whether the attempt to compromise McRyan came from the opposing camp, or McRyan’s own campaign manager, the man who asked that he lie about being at the scene of the accident. Jack’s suspicion is not glib paranoia, but comes from difficult worldly experience. He worked for the King Commission2, where he saw cops take money from gangsters to avoid prosecution, and he saw cops turn on their own when these crimes were revealed. Mackey hates him for his part in this, “I know all about you and your fucking tapes, you put a lot of good cops away”, and Jack must consider the obvious possibility that Mackey is working against him out of vengeance for what he did in the past3. In something like Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, or even All The President’s Men (if we’re unfamiliar with the real-life basis of the last), we learn things at the same pace as the heroes, while in Blow Out we’re given a situation that is entirely its opposite. Jack Terry has a gift of far reaching and discerning hearing which exceeds ours, yet he learns almost nothing more of the plot behind the accident, while we are shown all.

THE DROWNING POOL, THE BAGMAN, THE BURGLARS,
ASPIRIN ROULETTE

The approach of Blow Out places an emphasis on the intimate, and the vivid sensual of noise and light, rather than the traveling of a convoluted plot which twists through the nodes of the conspiracy. As already said, this conspiracy has a node of one, Burke – there is no conspiracy – except that which Jack Terry has past basis to imagine. Instead of explorations of the echelons of power, we are with the characters close-up. We are given a lengthy sequence as Jack splices together the photos of the crash accident and syncs the audio with this film where we see his dedication and skill in his work; the well-known scene where Jack discovers the disorienting violation of his audio tapes having been erased, as the camera spins dizzyingly around and we hear the absence in what’s been left, not silence, but a chugging rumble and a whirring siren; the squalid scenes between Manny and Sally where we see the desperation and misery of her life. This is the core of the movie, rather than a murder plot, which, as said, remains largely a mystery to Jack by the film’s end.

I would liken the movie’s relationship to the historical scandal which initiates the plot with Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates, which takes the event of Chappaquiddick and rather than dwell on the specifics of that actual scandal, turns it into a kind of novella of vivid, often fantastic, sensation, where a woman drowns in a senator’s car, only to be revived, and the revival revealed to be an illusion, and again she dies, but no, by some miracle survives, all on an infinite loop, the recurrence of the death and the false promise of survival an unending nightmare. The senator’s tongue down the girl’s throat melts into the choking dark water, then into the suction hose that pumps her stomach in a revival attempt, the hose becoming the senator’s tongue again. The senator is obviously Edward Kennedy, but those wishing for a scathing satire will be disappointed; no mercy is shown by Oates in the portrayal, but her focus is more abstract, creating a fantastic horror world, and portraying the liberalism of the early nineties as a kind of a church in decline, where novices such as the dead woman have lost interest in the tenets of the faith and community good works, preferring idolatry of the church elders like the senator.

A fragment of Black Water, one of the many describing the crash, conveys the hypervivid sensation which takes precedent over plot points or attempts to parallel historical fact:

She heard the single expletive “Hey!” as the car skidded into a guardrail skidding sideways, the right rear coming around as in a demonic amusement ride and her head cracked against the window a red mist flashing across her eyes but she could not draw breath to scream as the momentum of their speed carried them down a brief but steep embankment, an angry staccato tapping against the car as if dried sticks were being broken, still she had not breath to scream as the car plunged into what appeared to be a pit, a pool, stagnant water in the marshland you might think only a few feet deep but black water was churning alive and purposeful on all sides tugging them down, the car sinking on its side, and Kelly was blinded, The Senator fell against her, and their heads knocked and how long it was the two of them struggled together, stunned, desperate, in terror of what was happening out of their control and even their comprehension except to think This can’t be happening, am I going to die like this, how many seconds or minutes before The Senator moaning “Oh God. Oh God” fumbled clawing at the safety belts extricating himself by sheer strength from his seat behind the broken steering wheel and with fanatic strength forcing himself through the door, opening the door against the weight of black water and gravity that door so strangely where it should not have been, overhead, directly over their heads, as if the very earth had tilted insanely on its axis and the sky now invisible was lost in the black muck beneath – how long, in her terror and confusion Kelly Kelleher could not have said.

Because Blow Out‘s focus is on the world of its two major characters, the initiating event incidental, the accident itself has the quality of a dream of overlapping scandals, of the Kennedy assassination, Chappaquiddick, and the government cover-up of Watergate. I would argue that the movie’s lack of focus on the conspiracy event, its disinterest in outlining a surrounding labyrinth, leaves us with images, the vast park, the sinking car, the drowning woman, the dead governor, abstracting the accident like Black Water does, and partly disconnects the event from actual history – when it is very much connected to past history, in the characters of Burke, of Manny Karp, of the accident, all of which are taken from the hard details of the intersection of Watergate and Chappaquiddick, and of which I think De Palma was familiar.

Richard Nixon was obsessed with all of the Kennedys, their good looks, their charm, their wealth, their connections to the eastern establishment that he despised, an animus that ran from the brother he ran against and lost, to the last survivor, even after the debacle of Chappaquiddick. This obsession shows up in that other movie which touches on Watergate, All the President’s Men, when Carl Bernstein talks to a secretary who used to work in the White House about one of the Watergate burglars, E. Howard Hunt:

BERNSTEIN
Did you know…Howard Hunt? Didn’t he work in the office?

SECRETARY
Yeah, I knew Howard. He’s a nice person. He’s secretive. He is secretive. But. A decent man.

BERNSTEIN
Do you have any idea…what he did?

SECRETARY
Well, the White House said he was doing some investigative work.

BERNSTEIN (smiles)
What do you say?

SECRETARY
He was doing investigative work.

BERNSTEIN
On what?

SECRETARY
Different things.

BERNSTEIN
Like what? I’m just asking you.

SECRETARY
Well…the scuttlebutt for a while was that he was investigating Kennedy.

BERNSTEIN
Why?

SECRETARY
White House is real paranoid about Teddy Kennedy. I remember seeing a book about Chappaquiddick on his desk. And he was always getting material out of the White House library, the library of congress, anything he could find.

(the previous dialogue is not from the published script of All the President’s Men, which can be found here, but is a direct transcript from the movie since there are substantial differences between the lines in the movie and that of the script.)

This obsession is also revealed in the Nixon White House tapes, in these moments where the president tells his close advisors that he wants Ted Kennedy’s Secret Service protection to be used for surveillance, in order to gather damaging information which can be used to destroy him in the 1976 presidential campaign:

(Transcripts are taken from Stanley Kutler’s Abuse of Power and the transcript at whitehousetapes.net, Thursday, September 7, 1972 – 4:47pm – 6:15pm. Audio for the first segment is the file rmn_e772_06.mp3 taken from the nixontapes.org audio archive, specific page “Chron 4 Oval Office Conversations: July 1, 1972 – November 1, 1972”, entry OVAL 772-006. Audio for the second segment is the file rmn_e772_15b, also taken from the same site, same page, entry OVAL 772-015b. The tangential issue dealing with the names Schultz and O’Brien has to do with George Schultz, then head of the Treasury and Larry O’Brien, head of the Democratic National Committee. The Nixon administration was trying to go after O’Brien through IRS audits.)

The ongoing attempt to find dirt on Ted Kennedy intersected with the Chappaquiddick drowning, which prompted the Nixon White House to send out a private detective to research the area to find any witnesses or dirt they might use to further damage the Massachussetts senator. The man they sent out for the assignment, Tony Ulasewicz, is described by another Watergate burglar, G. Gordon Liddy in his memoir Will. The Caulfield mentioned is Jack Caulfield, another private detective in the pay of the Nixon White House:

We found “Tony,” later identified at Watergate hearings as Anthony Ulasewicz, at Apartment 11-C, 321 East 48th Street, Manhattan. Caulfield had described the place as “a very elaborate pad – beautiful, wait’ll ya see it. My guy Tony’s puttin’ the make on one of the Chappaquiddick broads. The joint’s wired for sound. He gets her in the sack a few times, wins her confidence, and we get the facts.”

When “Tony” opened the door, I couldn’t believe what I saw. First there was “Tony” himself; a big, overweight middle-aged man who in his best day would not exactly rival Redford. Still, Casanova himself was an ugly man, and maybe “Tony” had something only a woman could appreciate. The apartment itself was something else. It was small, so small that the “bedroom” was nothing but a tiny converted alcove with a pitiful, homemade wall erected across its opening and a curtain for a door. The wall, in which he was trying to hide a tape recorder, was covered in the fake brick sold at Montgomery Ward stores in poor neighborhoods to dress up aging kitchens. A white shag rug was on the floor, and the windows were hung with red imitation velvet drapes. The decor was strictly better-grade Juarez whorehouse circa 1951.

I note two things. Jorge Luis Borges praises the magical precision of the phrase “half as old as time,” in a poetic stanza4, as opposed to the more banal and obvious “as old as time,” and this magical precision is there in describing an apartment as “better-grade Juarez whorehouse” as opposed to simply “Juarez whorehouse”. The other, more important point, is that the description of the sleazy Ulasewicz and his tiny, squalid apartment is very reminiscent of a character we are already well familiar with, Manny Karp.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally and Manny in his room

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally and Manny in his room

Ulasewicz’s voice, a practical, matter of the fact, guttural well familiar with the ass end of politics, comes across well in a BBC documentary on the Watergate scandal (“Watergate 1/5: Break-in”, “Watergate 2/5: Cover-up”, “Watergate 3/5: Scapegoat”, “Watergate 4/5: Massacre”, “Watergate 5/5: Impeachment”), showing up in “Cover-up”, when the detective is recruited for another assignment, to pay off hush money to the Watergate burglars.

Segment running from approximately 24:24-26:35:

NARRATOR
Five days after the break-in, the burglars were brought to court to be released on bail. The president’s men set about organizing their hush money. Richard Nixon’s private lawyer, Herb Kalmbach, got the assignment.

MAURICE STANS (CAMPAIGN FINANCE CHAIRMAN)
Herb Kalmbach was a close personal friend of mine, and I trusted him in every respect. So, when he came to me and said he’d like all the money I could find up to a hundred thousand dollars, I said, “I can’t find a hundred thousand dollars,” but I know where there is some money, can you tell me anything more about it? He said, “I can only tell you it’s a matter of the White House needing some money – related to the campaign.

NARRATOR
Kalmbach collected seventy five thousand dollars of Nixon campaign funds. But he had to find someone to deliver it.

TONY ULASEWICZ
I got a call…to come down to Washington. And to meet with Mr. Herbert Kalmbach. I came to the hotel in Washington, D.C., I came up right away…he didn’t have his socks on, and he apologized for that. And I’d been in the army, in the navy, and he apologized for not having his socks on. At any rate, he got into this story, he’d met with John Dean. A park bench across from the White House. Dean said that on the highest authority, it was decided, that Herb Kalmbach would provide funds and that Tony Ulasewicz, the only one they could trust, would distribute said funds, to those who broke into the Watergate building. So now, he has an attaché case, and he’s got seventy five grand in there. The seventy five thousand now, he’s taking it out of the attaché case, and putting it on a bed. Now, seventy five grand, you know, is quite a bit of lettuce. And there was a laundry bag in the closet, one of these, very thin brown paper that you put your laundry in and leave it out by the door. And I plucked all that cabbage, and I put it into the bag, tied it up with the string, maybe twice over, put it under my arm, and said we’ll be in touch. Now, I’ll await your instructions.

Segment running from approximately 40:16-41:43:

NARRATOR
Nixon’s re-election machine looked unstoppable. But he knew that if the Watergate burglars started talking, it would be all over. So his campaign funds were used to buy more than just rallies, they bought silence. Howard Hunt and his wife began taking delivery of the hush money to distribute to the burglars.

TONY ULASEWICZ
I’m gonna do these drops at the airport. And I would- Because lockers were always handy. I’d get a locker number, I’d take the key, put the money in the locker, take the key out. And I’d tape it underneath the telephone. Then I would call on another phone, I’d call the person, whatever name we’d use, Mrs. Hunt at that time, one time Mr. Hunt appeared and picked it up, and I’d say the key is taped- Take that key and go to the locker and pick up your drop. And that’s the way we did it. And it worked very well.

If Karp is made in the image of Ulasewicz, then Burke is a replica of the Watergate burglar already mentioned, G. Gordon Liddy. There is a constricted, lunatic fanaticism to Liddy, and a blind worship of force, both of which can be seen in Burke. It is possible that Liddy’s later behavior can be traced to his overwhelming desire to serve in the army, and fight in Korea, the latter hope dashed when he busted his appendix after a bout of drinking followed by a sit-up contest. This failure to serve may have caused him to overcompensate later on, where he invested every aspect of life with the rigor of a Prussian and coiled violence of a Cossack. Liddy would work in the White House, ostensibly as legal counsel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), but really to perform intelligence gathering and sabotage of their democratic opponents. The political aides inside the Nixon White House would brag and brag about the presidential rallies they’d organized, which soon ran on Liddy’s nerves. “Hey, you guys,” he’d ask, “you want to see a real rally?,” after which he took them to one of his favorite movies, Triumph of the Will.

Liddy would present something called GEMSTONE to Nixon’s Attorney General for approval. GEMSTONE was a series of plans to disrupt Democratic rivals and gather information on these rivals through spies and surveillance, each element named after a gem or mineral element. Liddy does a thorough job describing the presentation in Will, and the following are some representative excerpts:

DIAMOND was our counterdemonstration plan. At the time, we still expected the [Republican convention] to be held in San Diego. I repeated my objections to the site, then pointed out that the best technique for dealing with a mob had been worked out years before by the famed Texas Rangers.

I pointed out that we would be dealing with skilled and determined urban guerillas who had been distributing manuals for violent guerilla tactics against the convention, including homemade bombs; that the Sports Arena area would be impossible to hold against a well-led mob attack; and that I proposed to emulate the Texas Rangers by identifying the leaders through intelligence before the attack got under way, kidnap them, drug them, and hold them in Mexico until after the convention was over, then release them unharmed and still wondering what happened.

RUBY concerned the infiltration of spies into the camp of Democratic contenders, then the successful candidate himself. COAL was the program to furnish money clandestinely to Shirley Chisholm of New York to finance her as a contender and force Democratic candidates to fight off a black woman, bound to generate ill-feeling among the black community and, we hoped, cause them difficulty with women.

EMERALD outlined the use of a chase plane to eavesdrop on the Democratic candidate’s aircraft and buses when his entourage used radio telephones.

QUARTZ detailed emulation of the technique used by the Soviet Union for microwave interception of telephone traffic, and I explained in detail the way it was done by the Soviet Embassy.

For use in gathering information at the Democratic National Convention at Miami Beach, Hunt [this is the already mentioned Watergate burglar, E. Howard Hunt] and I had an option to lease a large houseboat moored within line of sight of the Fontainebleau [a hotel in Miami]. This would enable it to be used as a communications center for CRYSTAL – electronic surveillance. It was an opulent barge, with a lush bedroom featuring a large mirror over the big king-sized bed. We’d get our money’s worth from the houseboat. It would double as headquarters for SAPPHIRE because it was from there that our prostitutes were to operate. They were not to operate as hookers but as spoiled, rich, beautiful women who were only too susceptible to men who could brag convincingly of the importance of what they were doing at the convention. The bedroom would be wired for sound, but I disagreed with Hunt’s suggestion that movie cameras be used. That wouldn’t be necessary to get the information, might cost us the women recruited who might object to being filmed in flagrante, and, as I pointed out to Howard, there wasn’t room to install them overhead anyway.

I presented a plan for four black-bag jobs, OPALs I through IV. They were clandestine entries at which microphone surveillances could be placed, as well as TOPAZ: photographs taken of any documents available, including those under lock. As targets I proposed the headquarters of Senator Edmund Muskie’s campaign on K Street, N.W.; that of Senator George McGovern on Capitol Hill; one for the Democratic National Convention at any hotel, because we had access to just about anything we wanted through all the Cuban help employed in the Miami Beach hotels. One entry would be held in reserve for any target of opportunity Mitchell wished to designate as we went along. I looked at him questioningly, but he just kept sucking on his pipe, suggesting none.

The total cost of these operations, Liddy would tell Attorney General John Mitchell, was one million dollars.

John Mitchell made much of filling and relighting his pipe and then said, “Gordon, a million dollars is a hell of a lot of money, much more than we had in mind. I’d like you to go back and come up with something more realistic.”

As I restacked the charts, John Mitchell continued, “And Gordon?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Burn those charts; do it personally.”

“Yes, sir.”

Again, these plans for illegal wiretaps, break-ins, use of prostitutes for surveillance of members of an official political party of the United States were all presented for approval to the highest arbiter of justice in the land, Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. In Blow Out, Burke receives his orders from the president’s campaign manager, Jack Manners, with the killing of the governor and the later cover-up all rogue operations which had been presented to the campaign manager, and which he has already rejected. Who does Manners look uncannily like? John Mitchell, Nixon’s attorney general and, in the 1968 and 1972 elections, his campaign manager.

There was another operation that Liddy was involved in, outside of the command structure of John Mitchell, and that dealt with a reporter named Jack Anderson, who’d infuriated the White House by his publication of stories reliant on insider leaks that were devastating to the administration. Liddy is forthright in Will about the plan of action against Anderson, put forth by fellow Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt at a luncheon, also attended by a medical doctor named Edward Gunn. Both Gunn and Hunt were formerly of the CIA.

The purpose of the luncheon, Hunt had explained to me previously, was to take advantage of the expertise of Dr. Gunn in preparing, for the approval of Hunt’s “principal,” a plan to stop columnist Jack Anderson. Even with each other, Hunt and I often, when discussing the most sensitive of matters, used the term my principal rather than identify our superiors. I, at least, had several. Hunt, to my knowledge, had only one: Chuck Colson.

Anderson, Hunt reported, had now gone too far. As the direct result of an Anderson story, a top U.S. intelligence source abroad had been so compromised that, if not already dead, he would be in a matter of days. That was too much. Something had to be done.

I took the position that, in a hypothetical case in which the target had been the direct cause of the identification and execution of one of our agents abroad, halfway measures were not appropriate. How many of our people should we let him kill before we stop him, I asked rhetorically, still not using Anderson’s name. I urged as the logical and just solution that the target be killed. Quickly.

My suggestion was received with immediate acceptance, almost relief, as if they were just waiting for someone else to say for them what was really on their minds.

Liddy would also explain in Will his justification for assassinating a journalist:

There is a point beyond which I will not go, and that is anything my conscience tells me is malum in se (evil in and of itself) or my judgement tells me is irrational. I have no problem with doing something that is malum prohibitum (wrong only because of the existence of a law prohibiting it).

An example of malum in se would be the sexual assault of a child. In every society such a thing would be recognized as wrong. It would require no act of the legislature forbidding it to inform people that it was wrong. An example of malum prohibitum, on the other hand, would be the statute prohibiting driving through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt. Absent such a law, to do so would be a morally indifferent act.

Common sense tells us that minor problems require and justify but minor responses, and only extreme problems require and justify extreme solutions. In the case of killing it is well to remember that the Ten Commandments, translated correctly from the original Aramaic, do not contain the injunction “Thou shalt not kill.” It reads, “Thou shalt not do murder.” Quite another thing. There are circumstances that not only justify killing but require it (when one is charged with the safekeeping of a child, for example, and the only way to prevent its death from another’s attack is to kill that other person). These are all situations that require informed and responsible judgements.

A number of methods of assassination were discussed. There was the possibility of applying LSD to the steering wheel of Anderson’s car, which might trigger a disruption of motor functions, causing Anderson to fatally crash his vehicle. You could play a game called aspirin roulette, where one of Anderson’s aspirins was substituted with a lookalike pill that was a lethal poison. Another suggestion from Liddy: “I submitted that the target should just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate.” One more was to smash into Anderson’s car, killing him, but making it look like one more traffic accident. Liddy would recall this last approach when he was a guest on “The Howard Stern Show” (this interview is on youtube, “G Gordon Liddy on Howard Stern Show Full Interview 2015”, and this section comes at 13:35):

STERN
If you had killed Jack Anderson, like you proposed to the Nixon Administration, what would you have used? Because you did advocate an assassination.

LIDDY
Yeah. Well, what we decided to do was…we knew the route he came into the office…and it included a traffic circle.

QUIVERS
You’re going to shoot him in the circle?

LIDDY
No, you’re not gonna shoot him in the circle. There’s a way you hit the car in a certain way, and it would flip and kill him.

STERN
The bullet, when they-

LIDDY
There’s no bullet, there’s a car accident.

QUIVERS
You’re hitting the car with a bullet, right?

LIDDY
No. No. You are hitting the car with another car.

This background is brought up to make obvious that the elements of the conspiracy in Blow Out are neither radical nor fantastic, but a very real part of American history, with a few small paths changed. Rather than gather information after Chappaquiddick, imagine if Tony Ulacewicz had been tasked with getting damaging information before it had taken place. Instead of Hunt and Liddy hiring prostitutes for purposes of surveillance as part of the SAPPHIRE section of the GEMSTONE plan, Ulacewicz would bring in a woman with the objective of destroying a candidate. Instead of assassinating a journalist for the greater good of the country, we might imagine Liddy, or a figure like him, believed that the killing of a governor was one of those situations that served a greater and necessary purpose. Rather than kill the man through an ersatz car accident, he would take the suggestion of Robin Quivers, and hit the tire with a bullet. It was a situation that required “informed and responsible judgement,” to use Liddy’s phrase, and perhaps the killing of a senator or a governor fell under the category of malum prohibitum rather than malum in se. Perhaps the killing of three women to cover up the assassination might fall under malum prohibitum as well. If anything, Blow Out is perhaps more conservative in its conspiracy, because we have only the actions of a rogue agent. As we can see in the excerpted section, however, one of the top officials in the White House may well have been behind the initial order to kill Jack Anderson. We now have audio tapes of Nixon personally ordering a break-in at the think tank, the Brookings Institute5. In this movie, we have a single agent acting on his own. In reality, we had a White House that went rogue.

Recording of Richard Nixon and his aides on June 17, 1971, when Nixon ordered a break-in at the Brookings Institute in order to steal coveted documents. This would be one of several times when Nixon would order a break-in at the Brookings and the theft of such documents; other incidents recorded on tape, and on youtube, include “Richard Nixon Orders Brookings Institute Break-in on June 30 1971” and “Richard Nixon Orders Brookings Institute Break-In July 1 1971”.

AUDIOPHILIA / PERSONAL EFFECTS / I AM OF BOTH YOUR DIRECTIONS

Blow Out was at first not called Blow Out, but something else entirely, as described in The Projection Booth podcast, fragment going from 46:50 to 48:00:

MIKE WHITE
The title, Blow Out, was not the original title for this film. Personal Effects was the first title for it…which I found to be a very interesting title, really, because you’ve got both the idea of the sound effects and them being your effects, but then the whole idea of personal effects, usually, when you talk about someone passing away, you are given their personal effects. And so it’s just this kind of nice play on words, and him going to Blow Out was definitely much more of a throwback to Blow Up, which I think is a very nice homage that he’s doing with the title, and you’re right, there’s definitely some nods back to Antonionni but…I don’t know, the thing when it comes to Antonionni’s films, at least the few that I’ve seen, it always feels like somebody took his movies and put them in a pot of boiling water, boiled out all the emotions, and then what’s left is what gets projected on screen? Because it just never feels like I care about any of the people in his films, it always feels like a bunch of sleepwalkers going through the motions, whereas with Blow Out, I definitely felt like there was so much emotion, and I really cared for these characters.

There are several associations with the phrase “Personal Effects”, the most obvious that it’s the name of Jack Terry’s sound engineering company, never said aloud, but there in the print on the glass of the door:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Personal Effects

Personal effects, as White says, are the possessions you might acquire after someone’s death, which immediately makes one think of Sally, but I find the phrase hints at Sally in another way: Jack works in sound effects, while Sally works in make-up, which might be thought of as personal effects. De Palma’s movies are often extraordinarily succinct, wasting few words on lengthy exposition or backstory. We sense characters visually, through their expressions, their posture, movements, clothes, and their work. Kate of Dressed to Kill is one of the most memorable characters in any of his movies, yet she has almost no dialogue, with Kate made a tangible, memorable presence entirely in her face, as she observes, reacts, is chased, and chases back. The vocations of Jack and Sally are handy metaphors for aspects of these characters which, in another movie, might be made more explicit.

The sensibility of a conspiracy theorist, or simply someone looking deeply into a particularly obscure world and discerning a pattern, is well captured in the profession of a sound engineer. Jack Terry doesn’t just hear at great distance through his technology, his hearing is extraordinarily acute through years of experience, able to discern small subtleties of sound. “You heard the blow out,” the cop tells Terry of what he heard on the night of the accident. “Yes I heard the blow out, but the first sound I heard was the bang.” Replies the cop: “That’s some kind of an echo.” Jack: “No. Look. I know what an echo sounds like, I’m a sound man, and, the bang was before the blow out.” He insists that the sound is there, though no one else can hear it – when Jack plays back the tape for Sally, she says, “I mean, I heard a noise, maybe it was a gunshot.” Only when she hears the sounds accompanied by Karp’s film is she able to clearly recognize the gunshot. This is very much like the closed off world of someone who might be investigating a historical or political mystery; they insist they perceive a pattern, yet others, not knowing the details of the various minor characters and coincidences of this unilluminated corner of the world cannot say with certainty whether their theory is credible, only seemingly credible, or false.

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Blow Out: hearing the gunshot.

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This is also something like what a movie director feels – whatever the setbacks and problems in filming, whatever others say, they see a vision in the screenplay and the footage that others do not, and sometimes these certainties crashes thuddingly to the ground, and other times this mad vision is exhilaratingly right. The viewer has the luxury of certainty, the movie showing us that Burke clearly was behind the governor’s death. This certainty is often expected on the part of the audience, that the hero’s suspicions are always right, that the hero is always correct and righteous in his actions, and this very attitude is upended by the movie’s finale. De Palma is well aware of how easily the audience can fall into unquestioning assent that a movie’s protagonist is always right, and later in his career he uses this to play a rather nasty trick in Mission: Impossible. There, in an early scene, we are shown footage of a senator speaking on TV, who Ethan Hunt will impersonate at the embassy. This speech is played loud enough for the audience to easily make out every word, for us to easily discern its meeting, and this senator is greeted with withering disdain by the television host, and dismissive laughter by our heroes:

ETHAN HUNT
We’re using Waltzer?

JIM PHELPS
He’s our guy.

HUNT
Isn’t he chairing the arms services committee?

PHELPS
Not this week. This week he’s fly fishing, at the Oughterard Slough in County Kildaire with one of our best Irish guides.

CLAIRE
He won’t be back anytime soon.

WALTZER
-irrelevant at best, or unconstitutional at worst.

TV HOST
With all due respect, Senator, it sounds as if you want to lead the kind of charge that Frank Church led in the nineteen hundred and seventies.

WALTZER
No- No-

TV HOST
…and in the process destroyed the intelligence capability of this country.

WALTZER
I wanna know who these people are. And how they’re spending our tax payers’ money. We were living in a democracy, the last time I checked6.

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - the gang laughs at Senator Walzer

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - John McLaughlin interrogates Senator Walzer

Brian De Palma's Mission Impossible - Senator Walzer explains why an overreaching national security state is a bad idea

De Palma, I think, is very much a skeptic of the national security state, and he puts what is probably the sanest attitude in this movie, and the one he probably most likely agrees with, in this marginal character who simply wants greater accountability and transparency for an intelligence agency that might well be acting outside of the constitution. This attitude may well have greater resonance in the present time than at the time of the movie’s release, given what we now know. Yet how can this senator possibly be right, if he is some reedy voiced senior, dripping in earnestness and piety, looked on with ridicule by a heroic character played by the biggest movie star in the world and mocked so mercilessly by the host of a TV show? It is perhaps helpful to note, and allows us to return to the subject of Blow Out, that this same TV host is John McLaughlin, an alumnus – like G. Gordon Liddy and John Mitchell – of the Nixon administration, where he was a speechwriter and one of the staunchest defenders of the president, even after Watergate broke7. Yet how could this Nixon devotee possibly be wrong, if a character played by Tom Cruise agrees with him?

There is nothing obviously unsympathetic about Jack Terry, there is no karmic payback in Sally’s death. Jack is more heroic and virtuous than most of us; he worked to end corruption in the Philadelphia police department, and he saves Sally from drowning. Jack is a man who is the audience’s heroic proxy, and his quest for redemption is our quest for redemption as well – we wish him to succeed as it gives us hope that we too might begin again, that we will have second and third chances. There is the expectation of movies that they will affirm our heroic fantasies, and Blow Out gives us a partial affirmation, providing us the concrete proof that Jack is entirely right in his belief in an assassination attempt, and then pulls the rug out from us – Jack fails in his mission because he badly misjudges the situation, and this misjudgement is a result of his quest for redemption by exposing the conspiracy, yet we in the audience wish him on in this reckless mission. We expect the very mechanics of the type of movie we’re watching – a thriller with a charismatic Hollywood star – will save him, that a hero in this context cannot fail. Yet he does.

Sound effects are Jack’s specialty, and make-up is Sally’s. Though we are never told any exact details about the matter, I think it can be inferred that she has suffered great abuse, and had to abide such abuse. We see her with Manny Karp as he paws at her, as she initially resists with little energy, as if she has become conditioned to expect a steady dose of such maltreatment in this life. This might be what allows Jack to act as he does in his worst moments in the movie, sending her back to get the film from Karp, humiliating her and then intimidating her into doing this, knowing that she won’t fight back.

SALLY
What are you going to do?

JACK
What do you mean what am I going to do? What are we going to do?

SALLY
What do I have to do with this?

JACK
Oh, will you cut the shit, Sally. I know what you were doing in that car.

SALLY (quietly)
What do you know.

JACK
That you and your friend Karp were setting up McRyan to be blackmailed, getting scummy pictures of you and the candidate getting laid after the Liberty Ball, right? What did you do, tell him that running water under a well-lit bridge gets you hot?

SALLY (quietly)
Who told you that.

JACK
I got a look at your earlier work. Some motel candid camera shots. You got nice tits. Who was paying you to flash them at McRyan?

JACK
Nobody wants to know about conspiracy, I don’t get it. Let me tell you something. I know what I heard and what I saw. And I’m not gonna stop until everyone in this fucking country hears and sees the same thing. And you’re gonna help me. Yeah you. You’re gonna find your pal Karp, and you’re gonna get that original film. Because this isn’t any good, I need the original. Because if we don’t get this out and in television for everybody to see, they’re gonna close the book. And any loose ends that happen to be hanging out like you or me, are going to be cut right off. So you got your choice. You can be crazy or dead, either will do.

SALLY (on the verge of tears)
Alright, alright. I’ll try and get the film. Then will you just leave me alone about all of this?

JACK
I wish I was the only one you had to worry about.

SALLY
You know if you’re trying to scare me, you’re doing a good job.

JACK
I’m trying to save our asses.

SALLY
I’ll look after my own ass, thank you.

When Jack tells Sally, “And you’re gonna help me. Yeah you. You’re gonna find your pal Karp, and you’re gonna get that original film,” he gives her the same condescending, commanding pointed finger that he received from the cop, when he was told to change his story:

There is an economic element to this intimidation as well: we see the sizes of their respective places, and Jack’s is clearly bigger, a two storey house. Money determines your importance, and whatever the miseries of his work, he is doing far better than her, has more money, is relatively more important, and this intimidates her as well. The assassination film is his project, and he forces her to do what’s necessary that it be completed. Jack stashes the audio tape away in the ceiling, and the camera takes its perspective, looking down, Jack’s guiding polar star which he makes Sally’s guiding polar star as well. When we shift to the scene at Karp’s, it ends with Manny unconscious, the camera looking down again from the ceiling on the wreckage, the outcome of Jack’s obsession.

Brian De Palma's Jack and Sally at Sally's

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally at Jack's

The respective houses of Sally, and then Jack’s.

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Blow Out: looking down from the ceiling.

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Sally tells Jack, “I know how to fix a face”, and he asks her in the conversation at the bar, “How about if I broke a nose? How would you deal with a broken nose?”, and she says, “Ah, that’s easy.” You’re reminded that make-up is a useful skill to have to hide bruises, to conceal the personal effects of a man kicking the shit out of you. Sally, of course, knows how to apply make-up so that it doesn’t even look like she’s wearing make-up, and she’s equally able to adopt a pose where one cannot easily tell how much of it is natural girlishness, and how much a survival strategy to forget past hurts and avoid further suffering.

She is a particularly nettlesome character to some viewers, and the discussion on The Projection Booth with regards to her is especially enlightening. This excerpt conveys succinctly the broad range of feelings towards her, as well as what her character embodies, fragment running approximately from 18:54 to 22:49:

MIKE WHITE
Jack saves Sally, pulls her out of the sinking car. We’ve got the governor, who might have been the next president, in the car with them, setting off this whole political intrigue. So, what did you guys think about Nancy Allen as Sally?

ROB ST. MARY
She seems almost child-like. At times. And child-like to a point, for me, is a bit annoying. It’s almost like she’s so oblivious to what’s going on, is so sorta naive, that it’s almost, it’s kinda hard for me to have sympathy for her at times, because I’m like, you are so dumb. You can’t even kinda figure this out. There are parts where she just seems way too ten years younger than she should be, she seems like a girl in her early teens or something, and I don’t know why I got that feeling, but I definitely got it in the early go, and as she progresses, it gets better, like the character gets a little hip to what’s going on, and sorta realizes the implications of what she’s dealing with.

JAMIE DUVALL
It’s a tough performance to grapple with in many ways, and I think it was a completely brave choice the way she chose to play it. Because you could see her as a complete air-headed bimbo at the movie’s start, with the high voice and the, you think it’s too exaggerated, but I think she starts with a stereotype, and she slowly humanizes it. And I think that her idealism, her kinda wide eyed idealism, is very fitting with the theme of the movie, because she’s the stereotypical hooker with the heart of gold. In her position, she has probably seen a lot of terrible things in life, and yet she maintains that kind of wide-eyed dreamy innocence in some way. While Travolta’s character, he’s grasping at the last straws of his idealism. And this is his, through the course of the movie, this is his one chance to try and make things right. I like the contrast between those two characters and I like that the innocence in her is exaggerated.

WHITE
Yeah, there’s a telling moment towards the end of the film, I know we’ll eventually get to it, kinda want to throw out this here now: do you guys see her as just being, I know this is going to sound really frickin ponderous, but: do you see her more as a symbol of America’s innocence and, you know, Jack is maybe someone who is post-sixties whereas she is maybe pre-sixties kind of thing? Do you see her as kindof that desire for a simpler, better time and that she kinda lets some of these things, because she has been in these bad places. I know that you said, Jamie. I know that you- you see her caught in one of these candid motel photograph kind of things and yet, she doesn’t seem like she’s that person. She just seems to be kinda oblivious and wants to move on with things, and look for the better way whereas Jack doesn’t, do you see her as that symbol of innocence?

DUVALL
I do think you can very easily see her as that. She’s got her blinders on, to the dangers of the world around her. But she can’t escape them forever. And- I think there’s a reason why she’s killed in front of a big American flag, at the end of the film. I mean-

WHITE
Oh, SPOILERS.

DUVALL
Oh, I’m sorry. It’s pretty hard to avoid when you’re talking about where that character goes and what she means to the story. You know, her demise. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful reading, and I love how you used the term countercultural, because De Palma is a countercultural film-maker. He’s always been a political minded film-maker. And I think that both of these characters kinda represent that in some way.

The startling, iconic shot just mentioned is, of course, this one:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally at the flag

Though an outwardly simple character, Sally has several fascinating ambiguities, such as whether she ever worked as a prostitute, how much she was involved in that work, and how she reconciles the frequently rough life of sex work with a kind and trusting disposition. The sections of The Projection Booth when Nancy Allen speaks of her character might be its most insightful moments, as she seemingly acknowledges that Sally worked as a prostitute while also denying it. We sense perhaps the protectiveness actors adopt for their own characters, but perhaps also the way an actor cannot express a detail about their character without also adopting the perspective of the person portrayed: I wear the kind of elegant expensive boots that a prostitute of the time would wear, but I’m not a prostitute since I’ve insisted on forgetting that I was ever such a thing, and so how could I be something that I don’t remember being?

A fragment that runs from 2:15:08 to 2:15:54:

MIKE WHITE
Your character, even though I sense she’s a prostitute, is one of the nicest people in the film.

NANCY ALLEN
Well, she’s not exactly a prostitute (laughs) as I said before. She is in her- She is working with this guy, this creepy detective, to expose these horrible cheating men. So, in her mind, she’s really doing a service to other women. Of course, she’s in complete denial of what she’s doing. As I am of her character, because I don’t see her as a prostitute. I see her as a very sweet, well-intentioned, young girl, who was easily manipulated and trusting, of men. So, you know, I can relate to that.

Another fragment, running from approximately 2:28:55 to 2:33:51:

MIKE WHITE
Where did you come up with that voice to do?

NANCY ALLEN
The voice came after, I had a visual, sometimes I try, just when you think about a character, and I had this visual of her as a, just a little rag doll, just a little raggedy ann, curly red haired, I don’t know, it kinda floated through me as I was walking around, as I tend to do, just mulling over characters, and I had a visual of her, and Brian wanted me to do a Philadelphia accent, which I had a really hard time with. I just hate accents so much, I was really resistant to doing it. We talked about characters like Giulietta Masina in, god, I’m going blank now- You know, not so bright, well intentioned, kindof character, do you know the movie I’m thinking of? With Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn? What is that movie, I know you know what one I’m talking about, I know what one I’m talking about.

WHITE
Is it La Strada?

ALLEN
YES! Thank you. Brilliant. You win the prize. So, we were talking about that, and I said, what if I just do kindof a New York-ese, not well educated kind of way of talking that, and just- The idea of, I was trying to think, why do women, certainly the women that I know, [goes into higher pitched, babyish voice, which sounds a lot like Sally] You know, this is kind of one of their voice days. [back to normal] And I thought, well, you know what? These are women who are resistant to growing up, keep their child like qualities, it works for them to a point, I mean, obviously, as you get older it’s a little bit unappealing. But- so- Maybe that’s going to justify- Take that idea and apply it to this character. And so, that’s where that came from. I will tell you, I think one of the first things that I shot was the hospital scene. With John. Who was unshaven, and wouldn’t wear make-up, and poor George Litto, who was producing at that time, came to the set, and he said “I’m paying three million dollars to a movie star, and he won’t wear make-up?” And then he looked at me and said, “Are you…you using that voice throughout the whole picture, or just in this scene?” And he just walked away, shaking his head, he didn’t know what to do with either of us. That’s where all of that came from.

WHITE
Whenever I think of you in the film, I think of your voice, but I also think of that coat, that you wear.

ALLEN
Oh, yes! [laughs] YES. There were many of those. Ann Roth made, six or eight of those, with the fox collar and…yeah yeah yeah, it was a great coat.

WHITE
It was like crushed velvet?

ALLEN
EXACTLY! Very good. Indeed it was. And I had very expensive boots. Always very expensive boots, because Ann Roth had done Klute, and she’d done a lot of research about hookers and girls like that, and they always had good shoes. Great boots.

WHITE
But you weren’t a hooker?

ALLEN
Well, THAT’S RIGHT. That’s what I say. [laughs]

WHITE
I guess the coat helped my perception of that.

ALLEN
She [Ann Roth] had such a great touch of detail, I don’t know if anyone has noticed it, because there’s probably only one scene where it’s visible to the eye, but when I talked to her about the character and I told her my visual concept, and things I was thinking about with her, and the idea, that some day she was going to be a make-up artist, a movie star. I liked the idea that this young girl had an idea about lucky charms, and things like that. So, she put together, I still have it somewhere, it’s a rabbit’s foot, on a thin pink satin ribbon. That I always wore, and it was either under- but I always wore that charm when we were shooting. It was, those little details really make a difference when you have something like that. That’s what’s so great about the collaboration of film, where an actor can work with another actor, and a director, and a costume person, and make-up person, and really great costumes, and wonderful hair and make-up, it really fleshes out a character, and all of a sudden you look at yourself, and you go, yeah, that’s her. That’s it. This is it exactly, and you start to feel it in a big way.

This mixture of ambiguity and simplicity, the kindness, the voice, all make me link this character to an actress now inextricably connected to the Kennedys, and that would be Marilyn Monroe. The accident at the heart of the movie, which might feel like a dreamy conflation of american tragedies, might also carry the echo of a lost hypothetical: what if Marilyn Monroe had hooked up with the one Kennedy brother she didn’t, and was there in the car with him at Chappaquiddick? Though I think Allen has a wider range, I can see Monroe’s peculiar genius making her a perfect fit for the part of Sally had Blow Out somehow been made in the 1950s, one of those roles where she would have been great, but which would also provoke the question of whether she was acting, or just playing Marilyn Monroe…or whether she’s always playing Marilyn Monroe. This tragic icon would get paid $50 to be photographed nude by Tom Kelley, who would sell the pictures for $500, which then went into a calendar that made a profit of three quarters of a million dollars; “He says he heard all about our fine divorce work and offers us six grand,” says Manny Karp, explaining the meeting with Burke for the McRyan job. “Six? You told me three,” says Sally. “Yeah, well, three before and three after,” says Karp. Sally: “When were you going to tell me about the three after?” Monroe, we’re told in The Genius and the Goddess, “was a prostitute, in cars on shady side-streets, in return for small amounts of money to buy food,” just as Sally had to do paid sex work to survive; the most striking similarity is that Monroe, despite the very grim circumstances of her life, was able to exhibit a girlish, open-eyed, friendly attitude, and how much of that was affect beneath which the actual Marilyn was enwrapped is an open question. Nunally Johnson, a screenwriter and friend of Monroe would say that she was “generally something of a zombie. Talking to her is like talking to somebody underwater“, and this might be something like the exasperation people have with Sally, where you might ask, what part of you isn’t gauzy cotton candy?8

I don’t think I’ve ever had this complaint with the character, because Sally has always made perfect sense to me, someone who has been very badly hurt over and over again, and has made herself into a strange kind of creature, an unknowable amnesiac submissive, to avoid being hurt again. In her first scene after the drowning, Sally moves about drugged, finally so comatose she has to be pushed onto her bed. In her last scene, she’s dragged about in a tight grip by Burke. Manny gets her in the beds of men for divorce work. Jack pushes her into retrieving the film from Manny. Throughout the movie, she acquiesces to being a device in other plots, culminating in the last, which she finally resists, a victim in a series of killings. We might see in the three characters of Jack, Burke, and Sally, a trinity, with Jack the middle point. Burke is technically adept like Jack, able to tap into and re-wire the phone system much like the title character of Three Days of the Condor, yet he is a sociopath, a man entirely without any sense of the humanity of others. Jack does have this feeling, along with Burke’s precision and focus, yet when his obsession overtakes him, when he forces Sally to retrieve Karp’s film, he loses this empathy. Sally has none of the engineering gifts of these two men, but is far more compassionate, with a far greater sense of the feelings of others, and this makes her guilt ridden, and it compels her to forget, to sometimes act as if some things never took place. “Manny, we got him killed,” she says tearfully to Karp, about governor McRyan’s accident. “Don’t give me any of this conscience shit,” says Karp. “You’re a pig, Manny,” she says, “And I’m a pig too.” Though it’s never said openly, one reason why Sally connects with Jack, feels such sympathy for him, is that they both know what it’s like to be haunted by the past, a death they feel complicit in causing.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Burke

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack looks down while editing

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally

One can understand why Allen felt the rabbit’s foot so crucial, because this is a character, whatever her outward circumstances, who somehow remains wide eyed and optimistic. She believes that luck will guide her to a better life, and this is the same magical thinking cure of most Hollywood movies, that we needn’t worry, that things will somehow turn out for the best in the end. The rabbit’s foot will protect Sally’s life, and Jack Terry will somehow prevail, save her, and become a hero by uncovering an American coup, and in another movie we can easily imagine this happy ending. But not this one. The one detail that Allen misremembers is that the rabbit’s foot was not a hidden talisman serving as just a helpful lodestone to the actress visible only in one scene – it is prominently displayed throughout the movie, another example of De Palma effectively using the visual, clothing and props, to convey a character well. Sally is wearing the rabbit’s foot when she dies:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally in hospital gown with rabbit foot

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally at restaurant with rabbit foot

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack in blue Sally in red with rabbit foot

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Sally dead

I see Sally as someone like Marilyn Monroe, where we’re no longer sure where the artifice begins and ends, but I also see her as a play on the types we might see in the kind of exploitation movie that’s shown in the opening. Sally would be the squeaky voiced Bimbo, but rather than leave her as the flat expendable type of a low grade horror movie, she’s made into something complicated, a woman of kindness, suffering, and desperation. She’s accompanied by another possible type from the exploitation movie, the nameless hooker played by Deborah Everton, who in another movie would be a woman to be hated, the Bitch or Slut. Though we know almost nothing of this character, the performance makes this character into something other than a flat type as well, a woman who has to put up with lousy, tiresome, nasty work for her pay. She can turn on a charming, luminescent face and turn it off on a dime, which aren’t simply the skillset of a hooker, but the basic necessity of anyone in the service industry, whether you’re a waiter, counter person, barista, or tech support, with the demand that you remain friendly towards the customer putting you on the edge of hating the customer as well. The hooker gives a beaming smile to Burke, then with a quick turn it fades off, the fade out accompanied by the clank of the telephone door. The friendliness is machine like, just as working in the service industry is like an unending lesson in how to be a friendly machine, and you have to be a friendly machine because you have no other choice. “You need the money that bad?,” Jack asks Sally about her extortion work. “C’mon, you know where I work,” she replies. “I get paid to smile my ass off and show the twenty seven colored lipsticks they’re pushing. You know how much I make? Shit is what I make.”

Rather than hating this prostitute for the coldness you need to make it through the day doing certain kinds of work, we empathize with her. Any hatred for this character, who might be the nasty Bitch the audience is supposed to hiss at in another movie, does not emanate from anyone sympathetic who we might connect with, but the lunatic serial killer Burke, who stares after her with cold loathing. We’re briefly given something of this perspective in Blonde, the fictional account of Marilyn Monroe’s life by Joyce Carol Oates, when it enters the mind of the photographer who shoots Monroe’s calendar. “Shooting a girl’s ruined face and her breasts jiggling and her ass and she’s young-looking as a kid stuffed into a woman’s body, innocent like something you’d want to smudge with your thumb just to dirty up.” These women move from exploitation types where their killings would be simply a dramatic musical cue and gore, blood dripping over bare tits, say, to a place where their deaths have a tragic weight, where the audience resists the possibility that Sally might die. The women have a sorrowful end, but the movie does not smudge them with its thumb. After Sally’s death, she is reduced back to something inhuman again, a mere sound effect, an accompaniment for a horror movie’s routine, expected death that means nothing. Her last breath on earth is now a small useful element, like gristle or copper residue, left over from one industrial process that can be re-used in another, in this case the manufacture of low cost nudie slashers. We are given a horror movie where the victims are more substantial than we expect them to be. We get the deaths promised in the film’s mock opening, and at the same time, not what we wanted at all.

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Blow Out: a day at the office.

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As always in De Palma, there is voyeurism. If voyeurism is an activity where we, the observers, are allowed the excitements of sex and violence without cost or involvement, then movies might be thought an ideal expression of this form, the same privilege as in real life, but where the observed activities will play out exactly as we wish – the man or woman will take off their clothes until they’re fully naked, the hero will wreak cruel vengeance, the woman in peril will be saved. All three of these describe vicarious fantasies of De Palma’s movies, and in all three movies, the fantasies are subverted. Dressed to Kill provides us sexual voyeurism, where Nancy Allen’s Liz strips down to her bra and panties, then turns on a lunatic killer by describing her fantasy of submitting to sex at knifepoint. We are then given a near recreation of this same fantasy, with Liz first showering nude when the same lunatic killer enters the house, and then Liz in a state of helpless and abject terror before her throat is cut. The very thrills that turn on the deranged killer are there to turn us on as well. We are given a titillating close-up of an unconscious nurse unzipped of her uniform, the kind of chest bursting outfit only found in exploitation movies and porno, before we shift perspective to see who is peeking on this erotic vision, and we see whose eyes we share, those of the masturbating grotesques of the asylum. The director plays the same trick on us as we gawk at a sapphic pairing in The Black Dahlia before we cut to the voyeur, another crippled grotesque, and, of course, the beginning of Blow Out, where we peek on co-eds in panties, bra, or less, and we are revealed in the mirror as one more deformed, moronic lunatic.

Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill

Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill

Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill

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Dressed To Kill: The abyss stares back.

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The Black Dahlia: the monstrous voyeur.

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The Fury is about a young man gifted with telekinesis who is programmed to hate the arabs he is told murdered his father, and his perspective becomes so distorted that he lashes out with rage and kills some Saudi sheiks visiting the United States. He is presented to us as a damaged sociopath, but when the movie’s other telekinetic character, who throughout has always been afraid of the destructiveness of her powers, finally unleashes her abilities to annihilate her enemy, it is our catharsis. The images that shape the sociopath of the movie shape us as well9.

Though Sally does sex work, like Liz in Dressed to Kill, at no point is the idea of sexual fantasy played with. Though Sally is a beautiful woman, the movie’s perspective is distinctly unerotic. Here, I think one might mention one last trait of Sally which she shares with Marilyn Monroe, and this is why Sally is the center of a fantasy, but not a sexual one. What recurs in every account and biography of Monroe’s life was her extraordinary vulnerability, a reaching out for a love that would save her. This, I think, is part of the fantasy of Monroe after her death, that you might be this man – if only she’d known you! – whose love would be subtle and tender enough to rescue her from the claws and rusty nails of this wretched life. There is the similar fantasy of the end of Blow Out, a vulnerable child-like woman unable to fend for herself who will be rescued by the hero, the hero a proxy of ourselves, redeeming everything in his life that has gone before. The Fury and Dressed to Kill foil the audience’s desires implicitly: you are given what you want, but you are likened to a monster. Blow Out is explicit: the fantasy is destroyed. The woman in trouble dies.

AMERICAN LIGHTNING / MEMORIES OF THE U.S.A. /
THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION

As already said, the characters of Blow Out, people without college educations, people who would be considered part of that vague and stigmatized grouping, “working class”, are often placed on the fringes and the bottom tier roles of American movie life, the top roles reserved for executives, lawyers, doctors, and other members of the professional class, and the Philadelphia they live in is a visual reflection of this. What we see of the city is squalid and dirty, with an underlying current of despair and exhaustion, a sense perhaps of a partly abandoned city, a chunk of the population having already left for the outlying suburbs. We are given unflashy, unvarnished grit, a place of greys and faded light all the while the bright divisions familiar to all, of the American (and French) tricolor recur again and again, standing out in this stark landscape, before becoming the light that overcoats the tragic night scene at the liberty bell.

The color theme begins with the joke opening. The dancers in red and white negligées, the blue light behind them. Blow Out is a serious movie, but not self-importantly serious, and this scene contains one of my favorite lines in a De Palma movie for its beautiful delivery, “Oh, go to Sue. Fuck off.”:

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Blow Out: "Oh, go to Sue."

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The dominant red of the room in which the couple have sex. Red, obviously, is a good color to associate with sex. The main part of Blow Out is a movie without erotic sex (does anyone consider the blow job in the train station to be erotic?) and the only time this strong, overwhelming red recurs is in episodes of violence. The red of Manny Karp’s room when he forces himself on Sally, and is then knocked out by a beer bottle, the red light of the construction site where the first woman is killed, and the red light of the tower where Sally dies.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - students having sex

The red, white, and blue seen very briefly in one of the passing students:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - two passing students - red, white, and blue

The opening ends abruptly and we are in the screening room. Jack is in a blue shirt, there are the red curtains, and the man running the console wears white.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - in the screening room at the beginning

Small hints of the theme in the props of Jack’s office, the red white and blue of the schedule and the clock; the news with the liberty day logo and the newscaster in a tricolor outfit:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - newscaster split screen

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack's red white and blue chart

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack puts on coat

We leave the color scheme almost entirely in the pastoral setting of the accident, except for one element, the woman’s red coat:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - couple with woman wearing red coat

During their first moments together after she’s recovered, Jack and Sally are in a setting which feels like a kind of purgatory, overwhelming white without any of the three colors:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally in the hospital

This creates a striking contrast with the motel setting, where the colors come into play stronger than ever before. The cars in the parking lot bathed in red light from the motel insignia, which is a bell pattern in neon:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack by the car at the hotel

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - bell pattern at hotel

Burke changes the tire; blue coat, blue bag, red screwdriver, red wire cutters:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Burke's bag of tools

The red, white, and blue wallpaper of the motel room, the red, white, and blue bed settings, the blue drapes, the blue doors, the red phone, the red ashtray, the red chandeliers, Jack’s blue shirt, Sally’s white gown:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - outside hotel

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally at the hotel, Sally with coffee

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally in hotel listen to recording

The red, white, and blue of the design on the door of the editing room where Jack puts together the edit of the accident photos and his sound recording:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - electrocuted duck on the door

The outside shot of Jack’s building as he finishes the edit of still photos and sound, red fire engine doors and red car, Jack works in a red shirt. Jack almost always wears combinations of red and blue:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - mural and passing car

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack with the tape smoking cigarette

There is the student of the opening that we briefly glimpse, in a red, white, and blue pattern, and the first victim who we follow for an extended period wears the very same tricolor mix, first spotted on an escalator where she is preceded by a crowd with prominent red and blue:

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Blow Out: seen on the escalator.

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Brian De Palma's Blow Out - first victim in supermarket

The two passing women who briefly obscure our gaze during this pursuit:

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Blow Out: red and blue women.

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The red, white, and blue of the bus that blocks our view:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - red white and blue bus

The red light that bathes the construction site, that shades Burke’s face, the tricolor pattern of the poster, which matches the pattern of the motel wallpaper, the red and blue of the victim’s sweater:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Burke after the killing

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Burke looks up at poster

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - victim with red and blue sweater

The red, white, and blue of the construction machines as we rise away from the building site:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - cement mixer

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - cement mixer at another angle

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - cement mixer in tricolor

With Mackey, Jack is now in all blue:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack in blue with Mackey

Jack goes to Manny Karp’s photo place, in red, shop with red dresses, passerby in blue:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack walking on the street past dress shop

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack walking on the street

At Manny Karp’s place, the red of the carpeting, the blue of the cop’s uniform, the whites of the photos. A sidenote: the pictures on the wall and the wallpaper make clear that the motel room at the beginning is in the same motel, perhaps the same room, where Sally and Manny do their divorce work:

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Blow Out: hotel rooms.

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Jack bullies Sally into getting the photos back from Manny, he’s in blue, she’s in red:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack tells Sally she has to get the photos from Manny

The overwhelming red of Manny Karp’s place:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - at Manny Karp's place

Jack at the scream auditions, all blue, red curtains, the director in red:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and director at scream auditions

The editing room when the tapes are erased, blue door, red extinguisher against white background:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - blue door and red fire extinguisher

Jack at home, red shirt, red cabinet, blue phone, white wall:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the phone

Jack and Sally speak on the phone, red shirt for Jack, white housecoat with blue trim and blue phone for Sally:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally on the phone

Burke is taping these calls, and the tape reels are blue and white:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Burke's blue and white tape machine

The red, white, and blue of the prostitute and the sailor in the train station:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - sailor and hooker

The woman alone now in the phone booth:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - hooker in the phone booth

Red dress, blue toothbrush, white bristles:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - hooker in the bathroom

Sally in the train station; strong reds in this movie are associated with violence, and a group of children cross the station floor, the chain of red foreshadowing her doom:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - schoolkids in red foreshadow Nancy's doom

Jack realizes something is wrong, red shirt and blue outfit:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack searches for Sally at station

As the chase begins, blue jeep and red car in the parking lot:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - van in the parking lot

The tricolor of the parade members is obvious. The crowd sequence flooded with red and blue light should be well remembered by anyone who has seen the movie, and the following is a brief overview. The obvious zenith is Sally in front of the American flag, followed by the soldiers in revolutionary garb ringing the bell:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack shaded in blue

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - women with rifles

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Blow Out: red and blue light.

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Brian De Palma's Blow Out - ringing the bell

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Blow Out: too late.

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Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack and Sally re-united

After Sally’s death, we move to a snow covered landscape, a bookend to the white background of the hospital room where Jack and Sally first spoke. Jack is all in blue, and he wore a blue trenchcoat and blue tie when he discovered Freddie’s body:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack on the bench at the end

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - after Freddie the cop is killed

The white backgrounds of the snow covered park and the hospital room are one bookend, the other is the camera traveling from the tree leaves, to Jack’s technical equipment, till we reach a close-up of Jack himself, which is a mirror of the sound engineer on his listening expedition. Then, we moved along the antenna, now we move along the earphone wire:

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Blow Out: moving along the antenna and the wire.

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The liberty bell strangler was finally killed, red white and blue:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - liberty bell strangler finally killed

We revisit Sally’s death in this last scene, and so the dominant color is the red of the studio drapes:

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack in the studio at the end, visibly upset

The use of this motif goes beyond the simple purpose of dramatic movement from low volume to crescendo; that these colors, recognizably American colors, reach their full bloom in a tragic act of violence that takes place in the background of a patriotic ritual, suggest the contradictions of the American character, a fascination with violence while denying that such attraction exists, or that the violence one is attracted to is anything but righteous, and yet this ambivalent fascination is not entirely a bad thing: it provided a vital heart to American movies and literature for decades. The finale of Blow Out is horrifying, but it’s also bravura, brilliant film-making, it’s gorgeous. Blow Out opens with a couple having sex in a room filled with red, and when the same dominant red appears later, it’s always there when violence is about to take place. This is a movie about a country at a time when violence was considered more acceptable than sexual desire, but it’s also about two characters, Jack Terry and Burke, whose sexual energies are sublimated in their obsessions. Film-making is an obsession as well, and the rich blooming colors of the ending are a counterpoint to the tragedy, but they are also the bright lights of ecstasy, the obsession fulfilled of the film-maker.

On The Projection Booth‘s “Episode 140: Blow Out”, the movie’s upsetting terminus was discussed by both producer Fred Caruso and Nancy Allen, as well as the possibility of a happier coda.

This fragment runs approximately from 1:55:30 to 1:57:17 (audio is occasionally quirky here, but is entirely audible and coherent):

FRED CARUSO
Let me tell you about the end of the picture. I mean, the film was well-received, as a decent business, but there was always the question, “Should Nancy Allen have lived at the end?” When John Travolta goes to the hospital and sees her, should her eyes have opened, should they have kissed on the lips, the music comes up, and a happy ending at the end. Yes, he could still be the soundman, he could still go back to his laboratory, he could still hear all of that stuff…but rather than making it such a sad, sad ending, black veiled, black cloud over the picture, what should the real ending have been in the movie? That was a question the studio had, George Litto had, I had, Brian had, and then Brian of course, said, “Look, that’s the ending of my movie. That’s how I end my movie. If the audience likes it, fine. If the audience don’t like it, fine.” So, there’s always been a controversy as to would the picture have been more popular with an audience, and done more business, if, and also if you recall, the one sheet advertising that you saw in the newspaper and the front of the theater, was a picture of John Travolta, black and white, with a horror scream, his face looked like a horror scream, and it said Blow Out, which made that look like a horror movie. Rather than a suspense love story. That’s the question, which would have been better, which would have been the better way to do it. I don’t know. But that was always wandering in the background, even as the picture got released.

This fragment runs approximately from 2:23:00 to 2:24:30:

MIKE WHITE
I heard that there was a different ending to the film at one point.

NANCY ALLEN
A different ending? No, we, myself, [editor] Paul Hirsch, and…I forget who else, really lobbied to…once John got involved, and then you have the two of us together…my argument, well, Paul Hirsch said, “You can’t have- John Travolta can’t not save the girl.” (laughs) You can’t kill her. And people are going to love these two, and they’re going to hate you for doing this. My feeling was, she can die, but you have to really have to let them have that moment together, we have to feel that maybe there’s love, maybe there’s something, so people can really feel his loss. So, there was conversation. There was never a different ending. The only thing different, as I said earlier, there were no parades, there were no mummers’ parades, there were no fireworks, none of that existed, that was all developed to make it a bigger, more important picture, now that we had John in there. “Wait a minute, this is John Travolta,” you have to make- I believe it was George Litto who talked to Brian and said you know, we gotta do this, gotta make this bigger, so, that’s how that piece developed. But, Paul and I, whoever else was vying for a slightly different thing with John and I, we lost, John and Brian said, “NOPE,” it’s not happening. So, that’s what I remember.

The death of Sally does not strike me as capricious sadism, or arbitrary in any way, or anything other than organic to the material, a finale that feels necessary just as the death of Anna Karenina feels necessary, where one cannot imagine any other possibility that wouldn’t ring false, a betrayal of the story. The movie’s closing would have no tragic power if De Palma had contempt for this character, and killed her off because he wanted her to die. It has a tragic power because he, like the audience, wants this character to live, just as he wants Oanh of Casualties of War to live, and yet if these women were to survive, it would make everything that came before it meaningless. It would transform these movies into their antitheses, where none of the choices of the characters had any dramatic weight, because the very structure of the movie would ensure that these decisions would have no consequence, because events would always turn out for the best. What I’ve just described is a shared trait of most Hollywood movies now, and one which makes them, whatever the overdramatic stakes and whatever the portentous music, so entirely lacking in tension, for the simple fact that the game is rigged, and we are sure the heroes will end up in the proper winning square, whatever they’ve done beforehand on the playing board.

Though I know some have dismissed the last scene as a ludicrous twist, I can only see it as striking a very uncomfortable, uncannily truthful note. Jack Terry once used his skills for investigation, and he now uses them again for the purpose of perceiving more deeply. Sally Bedina is someone who forgets or pretends to forget the most difficult episodes of the past, and her gifts lie in concealment. Jack Terry is discouraged from looking deeper at a mysterious accident, and encouraged by the governor’s aide and the police to adopt something closer to the attitude of Sally, to stop remembering what’s so inconvenient. “We’d like you to forget about her, forget you ever saw her,” Lawrence Henry, the governor’s friend asks of Jack, speaking of Sally. “One playmate just vanishes from McRyan’s car, just like that?,” asks Jack. “That’s right,” says Henry. This kind of amnesia of historical events is often wrongly attributed as unique to the United States, when it very much isn’t, though it’s perhaps most striking in America because of its many virtues. It is an amnesia that perhaps began with its very birth, with the idea that no man or woman who was enslaved was truly human, and so this historical crime never actually took place. “Your past catching up with you?” someone asks a nervous Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. “I told you darling,” she replies. “I don’t have any past. ‘Marilyn’ was born yesterday.” There is a tradition, occasionally an American tradition, to cleave the horror from great tragedies to make something more palatable and profitable. In Gone With the Wind, the slaves are happy men and women who fight on behalf of their masters. M*A*S*H begins as a satire of the bloody absurdities of the Viet Nam war, and ended up an incredibly successful sitcom without any connection to the horrors of that war. The mass death and devastation of New York City is replayed as a background of colorful apocalypse in Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness. The horror of this last contains an extra frisson because it was connected to something very real, very upsetting, and now it is spliced into something without any such weight – and this splicing is exactly what Jack Terry does. He still has evidence of the conspiracy, having made a copy of the audio tape, and he could easily put it together with a series of photos again, since all that Frank Donahue ever wanted was just the audio tape. Jack Terry, however, has stopped investigating, and now he’s trying to do what Sally does, which is to just forget.

Jack Terry is involved in image-making, and throughout the movie, we are shown images made that turn out to be misleading, wrong, false, or exploitive, the surface horror of the viscera, rather than the squalid horrors of Sally’s life. “When these policies are carried out, and the economic climate improves, as we expect it will…the people will rally to support the president, in the upcoming primaries,” says campaign manager Jack Matters on TV in the opening. “A lot can happen between now and then.” The “lot that can happen,” which the TV doesn’t reveal has nothing to do with the policies, but the photos of Sally with McRyan. We are told on TV that the first woman is the victim of a ritual sex slaying, when we know her death is part of a cover-up plot. The movie ends with the news telling us that Burke was finally killed by Sally, when we know it was Jack. Neither Jack nor Sally are ever mentioned as being anywhere near the accident site. The news is misleading, or it is callously opportunistic. “EXCLUSIVE! PHOTOS OF MCRYAN’S DEATH!” blares the newsstand ad for the magazine with the pictures that Jack edits together, and the PHOTOS OF MCRYAN’S DEATH! have nothing to do with any larger investigation of the accident, but blood, guts, corpses. Jack works on movies that are horror and death as entertainment, and the newspapers are in the same business as well.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack Manners on TV

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack at the newsstand

Jack Terry returns to cheapie horror, where blood, and death, and killing, disconnected from anything is acceptable. In this, he might also be tracing the very arc of his creator, who started out as a political film-maker before becoming very successful making thrillers, and would always arouse revulsion when he moved back into anything political. A movie about a sex criminal like Dressed to Kill or a fictionalized account of a crime fighting squad like The Untouchables is just a fun night at the movies. To make a movie about sex criminals in an actual historical context, with a very real individual fighting for justice in Casualties of War is to touch a third rail that everyone wishes did not exist. That he uses a tragedy for its necrokineticism, that Jack Terry is so emotionally destroyed that he uses a victim’s last moment to give a cruel flourish of an exclamation mark to a terrible movie’s scary moment, that isn’t what’s wrong with Jack Terry; because this kind of exploitation is commonplace and expected. The problem is that Jack Terry just can’t forget.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - Jack Terry doesn't want to hear the scream

(On March 25th, 2014, some exact quotes were added, specific livelier substitutes in place of generalizations; no meanings were altered. Some new images were added as well, such as the comparison of the houses of Jack and Sally, as well as the text on the pointing fingers of Jack and the cop. The section on the hooker played by Deborah Everton was added as well. On March 26th, some small fixes were made, footnote #3 about Mackey in the flashback and the comparison of the personality types of Sally, Jack, and Burke was added. On March 28th, the text was again edited for various aesthetic fixes, and small issues of grammar. No new material was added on that date. On April 14th, 2014, the excerpt from Hunter Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt was added to the footnote on John McLaughlin. Through a massive error, a version of this post was uploaded in late March without proper tags. This was corrected on April 21, 2015. On this same date, this post underwent a session of copy editing. On April 22, 2015, the second to last sentence, “That he uses a tragedy for…”, which originally had a very awkward rhythm, was re-written into its current form. On April 22, 2015, the audio recording on youtube of Richard Nixon’s order to break into the Brookings Institute was added to footnote #5. On April 23, 2015, this embedded clip was moved from the footnote to the main text, and links were added to the audio recordings of other occasions when Nixon ordered this break-in. On April 24, 2015, embedded gifs were added of various sequences to supplement or replace still images from those same sequences. On June 22, 2015, many of these gifs were replaced with vines.)

(All images from Blow Out copyright Orion Pictures. Images from All the President’s Men copyright Warner Bros. Images from Dressed To Kill copyright Filmways and associated producers. Images from Mission: Impossible and The Fury copyright Paramount Pictures. Images from The Black Dahlia copyright Universal Pictures.)

FOOTNOTES

1 This subhead, as well as the part of the later subhead, “I am of both your directions”, is taken from the stanzas of a poem by Marilyn Monroe, excerpted in Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers:

Life –
I am of both your directions
Existing more with the old frost
Strong as a cobweb in the wind
Hanging downward the most
Somehow remaining
those beaded rays have the colors
I’ve seen in paintings – ah life
they have cheated you…
thinner than a cobweb’s thread
sheerer than any-
but it did attach itself
and held fast in strong winds
and singed by leaping hot fires
life – of which at singular times
I am both of your directions-
somehow I remain hanging downward
the most
as both of your directions pull me.

2 The King Commission is an obvious substitute for the real life Knapp Commission (the wikipedia entry, “Knapp Commission”), which arose after Frank Serpico would testify to corruption in the NYPD. A number of movies feature the Knapp Commission, or an obvious stand-in, in their plots, including The Pope of Greenwich Village and Prince of the City. De Palma would spend many years developing Prince before it was taken away, to be directed eventually by Sidney Lumet.

In her interview on The Projection Booth, “Episode 140: Blow Out”, Nancy Allen would explain the connection between Prince, Blow Out, and the King Commission scene, fragment runs from 2:28:00 to 2:28:55:

MIKE WHITE
That flashback, with Travolta, to that moment where the cop got killed, just adds so much to our understanding of him.

NANCY ALLEN
Oh yeah. It really does. And that was Brian’s opportunity, that was his wink and nod to Prince of the City, which he was originally supposed to direct. So, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that story, Prince of the City? About the corrupt cop. Well, he spent a lot of time developing it, he spent a lot of time with that cop, so I think this was Brian’s way of saying, well, you took the movie away from me, but I’m going to put a little bit of it in here anyhow. So, it served a good purpose, it exorcised those feelings for him, but I also think it served the character very well.

3 The further twist to this suspicion is that Mackey was there when things went very wrong at the taping of the undercover cop. When they’re prepping him, Jack very clearly says, “Mackey, hand me the tape.” No doubt Jack always considers the possibility that the whole incident might have been a case of internal sabotage to destroy the commission.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out - wiring up Freddie

4 From the lecture, on youtube, “This Craft of Verse: The Metaphor – Jorge Luis Borges – Audiobook” (runs from 35:16 to 35:57):

Since I spoke of “as old as time,” I must quote another verse, a verse that is perhaps bubbling up in your memory. I can’t recall the name of the author, I know it quoted in Kipling in a not too memorable book of his called From Sea to Sea. “A rose red city / Half as old as time”. Had the poet written “A rose red city / As old as time,” he would have written nothing at all. But half as old as time, gives it a kind of magic precision.

5 An article from the time when this tape was first released is “Tapes Show Nixon Ordering Theft of Files” (author unlisted):

Recently released audiotapes capture President Richard M. Nixon ordering his top aide, a year before the Watergate burglary, to break into the Brookings Institution and steal its files on Vietnam, The San Francisco Examiner reported today.

The newspaper quoted from a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, part of 201 hours of private tapes released this week by the National Archives.

During a conversation on June 30, 1971, in the Oval Office, Mr. Nixon asked Mr. Haldeman to take the institution’s files relating to the Vietnam War, the Examiner said.

According to a partial transcript provided by the newspaper, Mr. Nixon said to Mr. Haldeman: “The way I want that handled, Bob, is through another way. I want Brooking — just to break in. Break in and take it out! You understand?”

A transcript of a meeting from Stanley Kutler’s Abuse of Power, where breaking into the Institute was discussed:

JUNE 17, 1971, THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, EHRLICHMAN, AND KISSINGER, 5:17-6:13 P.M., OVAL OFFICE

A few days after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon discusses how to exploit the situation to his advantage. He is interested in embarrassing the Johnson Administration on the bombing halt, for example. Here, he wants a break-in at the Brookings Institution, a centrist Washington think tank, to find classified documents that might be in the Brookings safe.

HALDEMAN
You maybe can blackmail [Lyndon B.] Johnson on this stuff [Pentagon Papers].

NIXON
What?

HALDEMAN
You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff and it might be worth doing…The bombing halt stuff is all in that same file or in some of the same hands…

NIXON
Do we have it? I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.

HALDEMAN
We can’t find it.

KISSINGER
We have nothing here, Mr. President.

NIXON
Well, damnit, I asked for that because I need it.

KISSINGER
But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.

HALDEMAN
We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.

NIXON
Where?

HALDEMAN
[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings [Institution, a centrist Washington “think tank”].

NIXON
…Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.

KISSINGER
…Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.

PRESIDENT NIXON
…I want it implemented…Goddamnit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.

HALDEMAN
They may well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to-

KISSINGER
I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.

HALDEMAN
My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.

6 The dialogue from the movie is my own transcript, as it is a little different from the script which can be found here. The speech by Waltzer is whole and uninterrupted in the screenplay, but the themes are the same:

SENATOR WALTZER

I’ll go you one further. I say the CIA and all its shadow organizations have become irrelevant at best and unconstitutional at worst. It’s time we throw a little light on the whole concept of the Pentagon’s “black budget.” These covert agency subgroups have confidential funding, they report to no one — who are these people?! We were living in a democracy the last time I checked.

7 A photo of McLaughlin and Nixon, taken from “John McLaughlin (host) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”:

John McLaughlin and Richard Nixon

From “Jesuitical Defense is given for Nixon” by Philip Nobile, an interview with McLaughlin from the time of Watergate:

Only one White House staffer would dare say that – compared with some ecclesiastical skeletons, Watergate is like the “peccadilloes of novice nuns.” He is the Rev. John McLaughlin, a Jesuit priest and presidential speechwriter. Although Father McLaughlin once ran for the U.S. Senate as a liberal Republican peace candidate, he now is a member of Richard Nixon’s church. The dictionary defines “Jesuitical” as “crafty, cunning, equivocal. Father McLaughlin is certainly all that in defense of the President. I have never heard a more benevolent explanation of the Watergate mess. Charity begins at home but McLaughlin abuses the virtue by whitewashing the entire affair.

Q. Aren’t you uncomfortable serving Richard Nixon in these times?

A. No. I believe the President is morally innocent in the developing events.

Q. You mean the President is without sin himself?

A. The most he can be charged with is holding too loose a rein on subordinates but the price of holding tighter would probably have meant forsaking singular and important initiatives, both foreign and domestic, which I would not have wanted to see him do.

Q. Why are you so convinced of Richard Nixon’s innocence? Despite everything that has been revealed so far, how can you still believe he has committed no wrong?

A. I know from the President’s demeanor, his habitual thinking regarding matters of ethical significance, his deference to people, his determination to leave lesser details to others and others to keep these details from him – the confluence of these factors leads me to that conclusion of the President’s innocence.

Q. If you were a betting man, would you wager that the President will serve out his term?

A. I certainly would.

McLaughlin also makes a brief, but memorable, appearance in Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt:

At that point in time, most of Nixon’s traditional allies were beginning to hear the death shrieks of the banshee floating over the White House lawns at night, and even Billy Graham had deserted him. So Clawson [White House Communications Director Ken Clawson], in a stroke of cheap genius, put a sybaritic Jesuit priest and a mentally retarded rabbi on the payroll and sent them forth to do battle with the forces of Evil.

Father John McLaughlin, the Jesuit, wallowed joyfully in his role as “Nixon’s priest” for a month or so, but his star faded fast when it was learned he was pulling down more than $25,000 a year for his efforts and living in a luxury apartment at the Watergate. His superiors in the church were horrified, but McLaughlin gave them the back of his hand and, instead, merely cranked up his speechmaking act. In the end, however, not even Clawson could live with the insistent rumor that the Good Jesuit Father was planning to marry his girlfriend. This was too much, they say, for the rigid sensibilities of General Haig, the White House chief of staff, whose brother was a legitimate priest in Baltimore. McLaughlin disappeared very suddenly, after six giddy weeks on the national stage, and nothing has been heard of him since.

But Clawson was ready for that. No sooner had the priest been deep-sixed than he unveiled another, holy man — the Rabbi Baruch Korff, a genuine dingbat with barely enough sense to tie his own shoes, but who eagerly lent his name and his flaky presence to anything Clawson aimed him at. Under the banner of something called the “National Citizens’ Committee for Fairness to the President,” he “organized” rallies, dinner parties and press conferences all over the country. One of his main financial backers was Hamilton Fish Sr., a notorious fascist and the father of New York Congressman Hamilton Fish Jr., one of the Republican swing votes on the House Judiciary Committee who quietly voted for impeachment.

8 The excerpts from The Genius and The Goddess by Jeffrey Meyers:

The nude calendar that Mankiewicz mentioned originated in May 1949 when Marilyn was an obscure and occasionally impoverished model. Tom Kelley photographed her perfect body, a modern Venus, in several poses and paid her a modest $50. He sold the pictures for $500 to a company that put them on calendars, sold them throughout America and made a huge profit of $750,000. In the best photo Marilyn is shot sideways (to hide her pubic hair) and from a ladder ten feet above her. Her long wavy blond hair flows from her backtilted head and mingles with the blood-red waterfall of drapery beneath her.

It’s sadly ironic that Marilyn herself did not live to see the sexual revolution and suffered greatly for being its symbol. She’d experienced intense sexual pleasure with Jim Dougherty and with Fred Karger in the mid-1940s; but by the 1950s, under the stress of promiscuous sex and stardom, she’d become frigid. In the late 1940s, when she was modeling and trying to break into movies, she rarely had natural and spontaneous sex. Instead, she was a prostitute, in cars on shady side-streets, in return for small amounts of money to buy food. It’s astonishing – after all her acting lessons and her brief appearances in movies – that she would not only sell her body for the price of a meal, but would also risk humiliation and shame, predatory pimps and police, robbery and beating, sadism and sodomy, venereal disease and pregnancy.

Employing a metaphor that colleagues often used to describe the frequently remote, self-absorbed and almost somnambulistic Marilyn, the screenwriter and producer of the movie, Nunnally Johnson, said Marilyn “is generally something of a zombie. Talking to her is like talking to somebody underwater. She’s very honest and ambitious and is either studying her lines or her face during all of her working hours, and there is nothing whatever to be said against her, but she’s not material for warm friendship.” Johnson also felt she was as unresponsive as “a sloth. You stick a pin in her and eight days later she says ‘Ouch.'” Despite Marilyn’s difficulties, this first Cinemascope picture was a great success and grossed five times its lavish budget of $2.5 million.

9 The Fury and Dressed to Kill are discussed in greater depth on this site in “Brian De Palma’s The Fury, Or: Hollywoodland” and “Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, Or: Two Women”. The Black Dahlia is discussed at very, very great length in a five part series of posts: one, two, three, four, five.

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The Satanic Bible and Ayn Rand

Anton LaVey was a carnie, a brilliant musician, a photographer of crime scenes, lover of Marilyn Monroe when she was a stripper, and the lover of Jayne Mansfield when she was a star. These were all claims he was to make throughout his life, though none of them were the reason for the larger world knowing his name. His infamy began in the 1960s, a time of upheaval and spiritual unease, as the lord of a new church, a founder of an american satanism and a creator of its bible.

LaVey is a fascinating american character, a man almost entirely a self-creation, his life story a tapestry of deceptions and lies. Lawrence Wright’s “Sympathy for the Devil” is most likely the definitive account, one that is detailed, sympathetic, and skeptical. LaVey says he was born in Chicago, 1930; but there is no one by that name in Cook County records, only a Howard Stanton Levey. He has claimed his musical gifts were great enough that he played oboe in the San Francisco ballet orchestra; no such orchestra existed at the time, the ballet employed the local symphony, and the symphony had no players by the name of LaVey or Levey. He then ran off to the circus, the Clyde Beatty circus, where he played calliope; the route books of the Beatty circus, available at the Circus World Museum at Baraboo, Wisconsin list no musician by the name of Lavey or Levey. He went on to play at a strip club where Monroe was dancing, and the two had a brief two week affair. After, he studied criminology at San Francisco City College, and joined the police force as a photographer, where the gory carwrecks and manslaughters caused him to lose all faith in a benevolent god. These are his claims: Wright finds no record that LaVey / Levey enrolled at the college, the police department has no record of his employment, and the strip club owner is certain Monroe never worked for him, and neither did LaVey1.

It is only after this that LaVey has his actual achievement, whatever the truth of what came before. He was spending time in Frisco sometimes driving around in a coroner’s van as a psychic investigator, sometimes walking with Zoltan, his black panther, always holding meetings every Friday night for discussions of the occult. These meetings would develop into his church, with LaVey shaving off all his hair on April 30th, 1966, the most holy day of the devil’s calendar, and declaring the onset of the age of satan. He gained much press attention and many followers, performing weddings and other rituals, wearing black clothes and horns2. At the height of the church’s notoriety, LaVey published The Satanic Bible (available here in pdf, though whether with permisson of the copyright holders, I am uncertain), the impetus for this post.

The satanism presented in this bible is not anarchism, or a devotion to violence for its own sake. It is a practical manual on how to approach life, and its perspective is simple: that there are weak and strong in this world, the weak should not be allowed to leech off the strong, and that the weak should rightly be dominated by the strong. There is a simple primal order, and it should not be interfered with. Though a large chunk of the book is devoted to occult ritual, what is notable, and especially topical at this point in the election, is that the intellectual spine of this infamous book is derived from the writings of Ayn Rand, the very writings cited as an influence by congressman Paul Ryan.

The connection between objectivism, Rand’s philosophy, and the satanic bible is not an accusation made by critics against LaVey or Rand; it is freely admitted by LaVey and his followers. The only question is whether LaVey gave sufficient credit to Rand, with some arguing that he plagiarised her work, while others state that he always gave her due credit. The underlying ideas of the work, however, has never been in doubt.

Before going to the links between Rand’s objectivism and this infernal book, I would like to emphasize again that much of it is devoted to the occult. What follows is a small example of this, one of the many “Enochian Keys” in this bible, appeals to the satanic power written in Enochian, a synthetic language created by the mystic John Dee.

THE THIRD KEY

The Third Enochian Key establishes the leadership of the earth upon the hands of those great Satanic magicians who throughout the successive ages have held dominion over the peoples of the world.

(Enochian)

Micama! goho Pe-IAD! zodir com-selahe azodien biabe os-lon-dohe. Norezodacahisa otahila Gigipahe; vaunid-el-cahisa ta-pu-ime qo-mos-pelehe telocahe; qui-i-inu toltoregi cahisa i cahisaji em ozodien; dasata beregida od torezodul! Ili e-Ol balazodareji, od aala tahilanu-os netaabe: daluga vaomesareji elonusa cape-mi-ali varoesa cala homila; cocasabe fafenu izodizodope, od miinoagi de ginetaabe: vaunu na-na-e-el: panupire malapireji caosaji. Pilada noanu vaunalahe balata od-vaoan. Do-o-i-ape mada: goholore, gohus, amiranu! Micama! Yehusozod ca-ca-com, od do-o-a-inu noari micaolazoda a-ai-om. Casarameji gohia: Zodacare! Vaunigilaji! od im-ua-mar pugo pelapeli Ananael Qo-a-an.

(English)

Behold!, saith Satan, I am a circle on whose hands stand the Twelve Kingdoms. Six are the seats of living breath, the rest are as sharp as sickles, or the Horns of Death. Therein the creatures of Earth are and are not, except in mine own hands which sleep and shall rise!
In the first I made ye stewards and placed ye in the Twelve seats of government, giving unto every one of you power successively over the Nine true ages of time, so that from the highest vessels and the corners of your governments you might work my power, pouring down the fires of life and increase continually on the Earth. Thus you are become the skirts of justice and truth. In Satan’s name, rise up! Show yourselves! Behold!, his mercies flourish, and his name is become mighty among us. In whom we say: Move!, Ascend!, and apply yourselves unto us as the partakers of His secret wisdom in your creation!

So, as said earlier, that this book has its source in Rand’s writings is not obscure or contested, but openly admitted by LaVey, as can be read in Raising The Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and The Media, by Bill Ellis. The mention on Rand’s influence is in a section on the Manson murders and various lunatics bringing unwanted infamy to LaVey’s sect (my bolds give the emphasis):

Exasperated by this unwanted notoriety, Anton LaVey held an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter, who described the head of the Church of Satan as being “as American as crabapple pie.” The cases of the past year were “damned sickening,” LaVey said, and called Manson a “mad-dog killer” who should be drawn and quartered on Pershing Square. He continued:

I’d like to set the record straight…if someone waltzes up to our front door and says “Lucifer told me to come,” he gets the bum’s rush, you’d better believe it. This is really an elitist movement and we’re very fussy who is coming in and whom we traffic with. We have to guard ourselves against the creeps, and we’ve screened out a lot of people who turned out to be bad apples. Mostly they turned out to be people who were disappointed when they didn’t get the orgies and all the nefarious activities they’d been looking forward to.

In fact, LaVey called his operation mainly “showmanship…nine parts outrage and one part respectability” that allowed participants to channel their demons into “a ritualized hatred that finally absorbs the hate itself, rather than turning it loose in such meaningless, antisocial outbursts as the Tate massacre.” As for his “religion,” he called it “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added,” and he actually looked forward to the arrival of a “benign police state.”

Here is a piece, Satanism and Objectivism, from the Church of Satan itself outlining similarities and differences in the two. Differences include satanism’s emphasis on carnal pleasure, the satanic creed’s greater emphasis on doubt, and the creed’s encouragement of a divine within oneself; the similarities between the two, however, the writer believes to be overwhelming.

Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, is an acknowledged source for some of the Satanic philosophy as outlined in The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. Ayn Rand was a brilliant and insightful author and philosopher and her best-selling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead continue to attract deserved attention for a new generation of readers. I am a strong admirer of Ayn Rand but I am an even stronger admirer of Anton LaVey for the vital differences between the philosophies of Objectivism and Satanism.

Let me conclude this brief overview by adding that Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy. Objectivists endorse reason, selfishness, greed and atheism. Objectivism sees Christianity, Islam and Judaism as anti-human and evil. The writings of Ayn Rand are inspiring and powerful. If the reader has not yet experienced her power, try her novelette Anthem for a taste. You will almost certainly come back for more.

“Satanism and Objectivism” can also be found in the appendices of the satanic bible describing its sources. A second essay establishing the link between objectivism and satanism, also among the appendices, is “The Hidden Source of the Satanic Philosophy” by George C. Smith:

Reading through past issues of the Scroll of Set [a Satanism newsletter], I came across a statement by Susan Wylie (March/April XVI: “The Devil’s Game”): “One should remember that, prior to I AES [F. Fred Palakon: I’m unsure – I guess an international satanic organization of some kind], there had never been any organization or belief structure similar to the Church of Satan.” Although this was written several years ago, I must reach across the years and address this serious error. The implications for those of us in the Temple today are no less severe.

I know that I am challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years.The speaker was not Anton LaVey. The speaker was a novelist, playwright, and philosopher, Ayn Rand. From the springboard of her famous, bestselling novels (The Fountainhead in 1943 and Atlas Shrugged in 1957) was created the philosophy of Objectivism, which attracted thousands of persons – myself included – who were more than “openly honest regarding what they believed” but studied, wrote, taught, and practiced what they held to be the highest expression of living.

Although like others I now have some obvious points of philosophical disagreement with Objectivism, the legacy of this enormous Satanic break with the past remains a fact of history that is of prime importance to Setians everywhere. To imply or state that the Church of Satan was the first to clearly state the Satanic ethic is to ignore the continuing impact of Ayn Rand and individualists influenced by her work such as Nathaniel Branden [The Psychology of SelfEsteem and Honoring the Self] and Harry Browne [How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World]. It would instead benefit us to enrich our understanding of what the Gift of Set has meant and does mean to others who preceded I AES.

What follows is an an analysis by Smith of the links between the satanic bible’s “Nine Satanic Statements”, which serve as the spine of the work, and points in John Galt’s speech at the end of Atlas Shrugged. It is this very speech that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan cited when he spoke at the Atlas Society (my bolds):

It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism…

So, here is Smith’s in-depth exegesis. Again, this is not made by a critic of satanism, or a critic of objectivism trying to link the philosophy to satanism, it is an examination by a satanist, pointing to the roots of a philosophy he passionately espouses (my bolds):

To illustrate this historical precedent, let us examine the Nine Satanic Statements in view of the Rand work Atlas Shrugged. In Galt’s speech (pages #936-993) is the written source of most of the philosophical ideas expressed in the Satanic Bible. Here are the first clear, contemporary statements which led to the glorification of man’s pride and the denouncing of the life-killing concept called altruism. Here also is a vindication of rationality and the inevitable cause of the failure of the Church of Satan to encompass the needs of intelligent and curious minds.

Note that the sequential order of these Atlas Shrugged quotations parallels the order of the Nine Satanic Statements.

1. LaVey: Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence.
Rand: A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man – every man – is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose. (page 940)

2. LaVey: Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams.
Rand: My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists – and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. (page 944)

3. LaVey: Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit.
Rand: Honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others. (page 945)

4. LaVey: Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates.
Rand: To withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement. (page 946)

5. LaVey: Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
Rand: When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him by force. (page 950)

6. LaVey: Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires.
Rand: You have been using fear as your weapon, and have been bringing death to man as his punishment for rejecting your morality. We offer him life as his reward for accepting ours. (page 950)

7. LaVey: Satan represents man as just another animal – sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours – who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development”, has become the most vicious animal of all.
Rand: Damnation is the start of your morality; destruction is its purpose, means, and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start not with a standard of value but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good; the good is that which he is not. (page 951)

8. LaVey: Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.
Rand: What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil; he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor; he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire; he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence. (page 951)

9. LaVey: Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.
Rand: And as he now crawls through the wreckage, groping blindly for a way to live, your teachers offer him the help of a morality that proclaims that he’ll find no solution and must seek no fulfillment on Earth. Real existence, they tell him, is that which he cannot perceive, true consciousness is the faculty of perceiving the non-existent – and if he is unable to understand it, that is the proof that his existence is evil and his consciousness impotent. (page 952)

I think that most careful examinations of the Satanic Bible will show how the Nine Satanic Statements acted as an outline for the “Book of Lucifer” essays.

Anton LaVey is the Magus of the Age of Satan, and did Utter a Word and cause a magical restructuring of the universe. As the instrument of the creation of that Age, he is immortalized. At the same time, credit for the source of the philosophy which he espoused must be given to Ayn Rand.

Please understand that I was an Objectivist prior to joining the Church of Satan. It was the intellectual rigor demanded by Objectivism which enabled me to appreciate the full meaning of the Satanic Bible. At the same time I first completed reading it, I said that here I had found Objectivism with an open mind concerning paranormal phenomena.

This leaves us in an uncanny situation, for it is usually the enemies of secular liberalism who have happily indicted us as allies of lucifer. Yet here is the man on the republican presidential ticket, a man looked on with pride and admiration by the party as their best and brightest, who has been formed by the very principles of the superior maker versus his leeching inferiors, that form the bedrock of this baphometian testament. The calm, rational analysis is that the very principles espoused by this ticket, absent their patriotic finery, are indistinguishable from the self-serving ones of the luciferean cult.

Another possibility I entertain, which I give no credence to, but which makes for a more exciting plot, is that we are seeing the Mephisophelean candidate, a presidential ticket with the backing of the fallen one, just as the nominee of the Manchurian Candidate had the backing of the red china leadership. Here is a ticket, the top of which received initial funding for his business, Bain Capital, from families behind the killing of noble catholic archbishop Oscar Romero3, and whose pick for vice president gets foreign policy advice from the same man who covered up that same killing4, as well as the massacre in El Mozote. These men champion an economic plan, formed by the same ideas which serve as the foundation of american satanism, which will cut to the bone those in poverty and want, children, the elderly, the sick, and those veterans seeking safe haven after surviving hell overseas, so that a fortunate fraction may have more horse stables and cadillacs. They seek a cheap pile of votes by demanding that some men and women be starved into submission until they leave the country, while urging on wars with Iran and North Korea that their own families will never serve in. Were one to approach this mosaic with the same imagination as Tim LaHaye or Glenn Beck, would one not see here a presidential ticket backed by the prince of the lake of fire? Mitt Romney, who appears happy to welcome discussion on whether the president was born in the United States, and on the loyalty of Huma Abedin, will no doubt welcome discussion on this as well.

But I don’t seriously consider this possibility, except as one of exciting dramatic potential. I only note the irony that those brave warriors of the christian right who have always so happily fought satan as a force outside themselves and their party, have now satanism within. They appear possessed, and they are happily indifferent to it.

(On August 26th, the link to a pdf version of The Satanic Bible was updated, as the previous link was broken.)

1 Wright, the author of the essential The Looming Tower and “Lives of the Saints”, a great overview of Mormon history, catches all these lies, but misses two small ones: Jayne Mansfield’s intimate relationship with LaVey goes unquestioned, and there is LaVey’s ridiculous suggestion that when cutting something in his scrapbook, the scissors accidentally cut into a Mansfield photo, triggering her decapitation. Ridiculous in and of itself, but more so since Mansfield wasn’t decapitated.

2 An article covering the first wedding administered by LaVey, Associated Press, February 1st, 1967:

Rites “Conceived in Hell”

Asking the blessings of Satan, a couple was married last night in San Francisco by a lion-tamer-turned-sorceror who pronounced the match “conceived in hell.”

Through the dark rite, a 500-pound lion on the back porch grumbled throatily and bashed the bars of his cage with his paws.

The bride was black-gowned Judith Case, 26, graduate of Goucher College and daughter of Edward Haile Case, former member of the New York Power Authority. The bridegroom was John Raymond, 35, who described himself as “a member of society.”

Anton Szandor LaVey wore devil horns while performing his first wedding in the Victorian living room of his black-walled Satanist Church. About 30 disciples of the self-styled priest of the Prince of Darkness witnessed the wedding, plus an equal number of reporters.

3 From Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads by Cole Stangler and Ryan Grim:

“I owe a great deal to Americans of Latin American descent,” [Mitt Romney] said at a dinner in Miami in 2007. “When I was starting my business, I came to Miami to find partners that would believe in me and that would finance my enterprise. My partners were Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.”

Romney could also have thanked investors from two other wealthy and powerful Central American clans — the de Sola and Salaverria families, who the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe have reported were founding investors in Bain Capital.

The Salaverria family, whose fortune came from producing cotton and coffee, had deep connections to the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a political party that death-squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson founded in the fall of 1981. The year before, El Salvador’s government had pushed through land reforms and nationalized the coffee trade, moves that threatened a ruling class whose financial and political dominance was built in large part on growing coffee. ARENA controlled and directed death squads during its early years.

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador and an advocate of the poor, was celebrating Mass at a chapel in a small hospital when he was assassinated on D’Aubuisson’s orders, according to a person involved in the murder who later came forward.

The day before, Romero, an immensely popular figure, had called on the country’s soldiers to refuse the government’s orders to attack fellow Salvadorans.

“Before another killing order is given,” he advised in his sermon, “the law of God must prevail: Thou shalt not kill.”

4 From The Daily Beast:

In recent months, Ryan has been receiving briefings from Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s former Middle East director at the National Security Council, and Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, as first reported by Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes on Twitter.

From “Scandal? What Scandal” by Terry J. Allen, at FAIR, among many of those involved in Iran-Contra, including Abrams:

News reporting on Elliott Abrams has been so sparse and pallid as to give hope to war criminals everywhere. Like Negroponte, Abrams maintains ignorance when not boasting that his policy was a “fabulous achievement” (Washington Post, 3/21/93).

A few outlets have written strong editorials, particularly the Philadelphia Inquirer’s scorched-earth description (7/11/01) of Abrams as a “deceitful, scheming coddler of Latin American tyrants,” and “uncontrite peddler of lies.”

Most news stories, however, have simply noted the appointment and mentioned Abrams convictions for withholding evidence from Congress–as if he were a minor player haunted by sins of omission. They’ve ignored his cover-ups of the Salvadoran army’s massacre at El Mozote and assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Except for reporting in The Nation (7/2/01) and a piece by this reporter in In These Times (8/6/01), few publications have reprised Abrams’ role in Iran-Contra.

On February 8, 1982, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote “were not credible,” and that “it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.”

It’s not as if hard evidence and gruesome details of Abrams’ knowledge and culpability are difficult to find. The man was convicted in open hearings and remains brazenly unrepentant. He called his prosecutors “filthy bastards,” the proceedings against him “Kafkaesque” and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee “pious clowns,” according to an article in Legal Times (5/30/94). Raymond Bonner broke the story of the El Mozote massacre in the New York Times (1/27/82). The story also ran in the Washington Post (3/5/82). Post reporters Guy Gugliotta and Douglas Farah (3/21/93) further documented Abrams’ role in El Salvador in a 1993 story.

Both links come via the always valuable Charles Pierce.

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