Thursday, July 12, 2012

The juxtaposition between music and image within Anger’s Scorpio Rising.

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KH “What is the relationship for you between the sound and the image? Is there a third thing that is produced?”

KA “It is the fabric on which the picture is woven. To me, it’s as important as the picture itself. It’s an integral part. It replaces what dialogue would be doing. It provides clue to my intent.”

Dick Hebdige notes that Kenneth Anger’s films have the ability to appropriate “’humble objects’ ... which are made to carry ‘secret’ meanings meanings which express, in code, a form of resistance to the order which guarantees their continued subordination.” It is in this way that Anger’s re-appropriation and juxtaposition of culturally manufactured icons, images and specifically “pop” music subverts moral and social conventions of American society. A systematic analysis of Anger’s 164 film Scorpio Rising, reveals an understanding whereby every signifier is expunged from its culturally normative position and rather presented as a polemical critique of American societal value systems. Scorpio Rising focuses on the iconography of the American motorcycle cult, yet Anger expands the imagery of the film to implicate the Sunday comics, a B-grade movie of the life of Christ, Hollywood movies presented through the form of television, and, perhaps most strikingly, 1 hit records from 16 � 16. The film is clearly structured by the 1 “pop” songs, which constitute its entire soundtrack (excluding some sound effects, notably the racing of motors and the screeching of wheels), and which correspond fairly consistently to a segmentation by scenes. Through the incorporated juxtaposition between sound and image, Anger’s Scorpio Rising creates an iconoclasm for post-war American societal understandings of religion, youth and youth culture, sexuality and masculinity, amongst many other cultural and social ideologies.

Through the medium of filmmaker, Anger is able to appropriate, re-interpret and thus re-present the fetishistic cultural images which 160’s America assumed as the norm and set as a precedent for societal understandings. Anger critiques moral and social conventions of American society through the juxtaposition of sound and images. His films work to appropriate systems of symbols, present throughout American society, and disrupt their traditional readings, in Anger’s own words his films act as “a death mirror held up to American culture” . Anger provides the viewer with a montage of images, for example he incorporates a B-grade film of the life of Jesus Christ into Scorpio Rising. Initially the inclusion of such an identifiable image, with all of it’s associations, may not appear to usurp social and moral conventions, however, when amalgamated with specifically chosen, culturally identifiable 160s “pop” songs the context is given an entirely different reading and thus produces a critique of American society and its ideologies.

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During the scene in which The Crystals sing “He’s a Rebel ” (16), these understandings are unequivocally manifested. Anger inter-cuts shots of the gang leader Scorpio walking along the sidewalk, with clips from a religious film showing Christ walking along a road followed by his disciples. The lyrics of the song; “See the way he walks down the street,” clearly equate Scorpio, Christ, and the rebel referred to in the song. Whereby Anger’s crosscutting serves to emphasize the similarities of the figures in consideration, it also makes evident their differences.

He’s a rebel

And he’s never, never been any good.

He’s a rebel

And he never, ever does what he should.

In the mentioned segment Christ stops to minister to a blind man and subsequently restores the man’s sight. As the blind man opens his eyes to see the world for the first time, Anger inter-cuts a man’s naked torso; when the healed man kneels before Jesus to give him thanks, Anger inserts a very brief close up of a penis, then cuts back to the man rising from his knees, as though he has just administered fellatio. By associating two rather opposing culturally manufactured icons in the one scene, Christ and the “Leader of The Pack”, then associating homoerotic fellatio, and finally juxtaposing them all with the “pop” song, Anger usurps traditional readings of the figures and coerces the viewer to re-interpret the societal value placed on these typically presupposed normative cultural value systems. Christ represents ,000 years of repression by the Christian church, adopted throughout the Western world. He represents a supreme authority figure whose teachings have been interpreted in such a way that he has had the ability to impose an order of sexual denial upon the entire Western world, most evidently a denial of relationships that appears to fall outside the patriarchal, heterosexual norms. The song “He’s a Rebel” in combination with a representation of Christ may suggest that the traditionally undisputed teachings of the Church do not relate to the new generation, that they are in opposition to the understandings and principles of the new “Scorpio Age”, which Anger aligns himself with. As noted previously, Christ represents ,000 years of sexual repression by the Christian church, the inter-cut of fellatio by Anger suggests an upheaval of traditional heterosexual relations, and it presents the viewer with an alternative of the Church from a homosexual perspective. In this segment of the film there is a juxtaposition between sound and image and there is also a clash of iconographic images, this subsequently leads to a usurping of traditional associations between societal understandings of religion and it’s place in 160s America, religious morality and homoerotic discourse. Anger’s films work to appropriate systems of symbols and to disrupt their traditional readings, this is no more evident than in Scorpio Rising, in particular in the mentioned segment of the film. It is through his re-appropriation and juxtaposition of cultural and religious iconography that Anger’s reprocessing of socially manufactures symbols is truly iconoclastic, in a literal sense of destroying sacred images, an attack of settled beliefs or institutions.

Anger’s employment of the American motorcycle genre provides for a critique of moral and social conventions, specifically, a critique of the mythology of the American male hero, masculinity & male sexuality. In the opening segment of the film, in which Rick Nelson sings “Fools Rush In” (164), the viewer is introduced to the central themes of the film, the motorcyclists obsession, the romantic/obsessive language of pop music and the male physique. The central ambiguity of the film is one of sexual ambiguity, all themes at the beginning or the film are presented erotically, yet eroticism does not emerged as an overt subject until later in the film. Anger superimposes homosexual and female implications on the hyperbolic masculinity of the image of the motorcyclist, around this indeterminacy, an entire lexicon of cultural icons is reinterpreted. Anger’s films work to appropriate systems of symbols and to disrupt their traditional reading.

The music incorporated into Scorpio Rising makes evident culturally assumed positions and understandings in reference to gender and its social alignment. The scene in which The Ron-Dells sing “Wind - Up Doll”, makes evident the association between the fetishized object of the motorcycle and the female singer, who defines herself as a mechanized object “I guess I’m kind of a wind-up dolly too.” In this sense women and motorcycles become equivalent, both are toys to be played with. Shots of the cyclist turning a wrench are inter-cut with those of a child winding up a toy motorcycle cop. The comparison that is presented, makes evident the cyclist’s obsession with his machine, it also suggests an element of adolescence to the obsessive nature of the cyclist, thus arguably associating the cyclist with a pre-heterosexual stage of development. The masculine symbol of the motorcycle therefore replaces the female figure in the cyclist’s affection, which is implicit in the lyrics of the song “Wind me up, I’ll fall in love with you.” In this sense, the viewer acknowledges the way in which objects of love, or sexual gratification, become objects of possession for manipulation, they are solely required as extensions of the male ego. Where Anger’s choice of image and music may initially appear innocent, a systematic analysis of this union reveals the way in his reprocessing of socially manufactures symbols is truly disruptive to traditional social and moral conventions of American society in the post-war period.

Blue Velvet posits the male body as an object of admiration, the camera tilts lovingly up the legs of one of the cyclists’ torn blue jeans, arriving at his crotch just as he is zipping his fly. The camera voyeuristically watches as a tattooed man pulls on a T-shirt, and pans slowly across the body of another bare-chested cyclist. The shot is risqu� and titillating based on the style of traditional 150s/60s Hollywood films, which coyly caress the body of a scantily clad female actress. At the same time Bobby Vinton croons, “She wore blue velvet”, the lyrics and tone of the song are juxtaposed with the image which is typically associated with a hyper-masculine, heterosexual understandings. The juxtaposition proposes sexual role reversal and repressed sexuality is liberated in the form of fetishism, whereby the cloth fetish of the song gives way to the fetishes of super masculine clothing, denim and leather, and finally to the male physique itself. Given the homoerotic discourse suggested in this segment of the film, it may be argued that the adotion of the song with its references to “blue” may be employed as it takes on connotations of pornography (as in “blue movie”).

In the scene which features Martha and Vandellas singing “Heat Wave”, a song about the heated impact of sexual desire, a barrage of images immediately ensues Scorpio, the gang leader, snorting an amount of cocaine. The viewer is bombarded with a m�lange of images close-ups of a child’s wind-up toy policeman on a motorcycle (reasserting the adolescent quality of the outlet for repressed sexuality), a television image of pigeons being liberated from a cage (literally “coming out,” with its gay implications), Gary Cooper from High Noon (once again, male to male conflict seen in terms of the great American myth, the Western, fought with the phallic substitute of the revolver) and rows of shining cycle trophies (phallic prizes asserting male superiority).

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