Friday, 29 July 2011
I think that South Park is one of the great satires of our time. It is in the tradition of Swift and Hogarth, and the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, in commenting, and ridiculing contemporary events and figures. We need satire to remind us that those high up on the social scale, whether they are Kings and Queens, Politicians or just adults in authority, are the same as us, the regular mortals out on the street. Kings and Queens piss, shit, fart and throw up; they are no different to us and satire nudges us, to remind us of this undeniable fact.
For satire to work, it has to be immediate, and with true dedication to the genre, episodes of South Park are typically written and produced during the week preceding the show’s broadcast.
South Park is an American animated sitcom created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the Comedy Central television network. Intended for mature audiences, the show has become famous for its crude language, surreal, satirical, and dark humour that lampoons a wide range of topics. The ongoing narrative revolves around four boys—Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick—and their bizarre adventures in and around the town of South Park.
Parker and Stone, who met in college, developed the show from two animated shorts they created in 1992 and 1995. The latter became one of the first Internet viral videos, which ultimately led to its production as a series. South Park premiered in August 1997 with great success, consistently earning the highest ratings of any basic cable program. Subsequent ratings have varied, but the show remains Comedy Central's highest rated and longest running program. Originally produced by cutout animation, each episode is now created with computer software that emulates the show's distinct style. After the first couple of seasons, Parker became the only credited director, and the only writer for the majority of the past four seasons. As of 2011, a total of 216 episodes have aired during the show's fifteen seasons. Parker and Stone are under contract to produce 14 new episodes in 2011. The fifteenth season premiered on April 27, 2011.
I want to look at the episode where the show’s writers lampoon religion. It is Jesus vs. Satan.
"Damien" is the eighth episode of the first season of the animated television series South Park. It originally aired on Comedy Central in the United States on February 4, 1998. In the episode, the boys' class is joined by a new student named Damien, who has been sent by his father Satan to find Jesus and arrange a boxing match between the two. The majority of South Park residents bet on Satan to win the match due to his enormous size and muscular physique, but Satan ultimately throws the fight and reveals he bet on Jesus, thus winning everybody's money.
The episode was written by series co-founders Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with writer Brian Graden. It was directed by Parker, and was rated TV-14-LV in the United States for strong to extreme language & bloody violence. The episode serves as a satire on religion, faith and the nature of good and evil, as well as a commentary on commercialism, the cult of celebrity in America and the nature of children. It was originally written as a Christmas special, but the original broadcast was pushed forward when Parker and Stone decided instead to make "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" the season's holiday episode.
"Damien" received generally positive reviews and was viewed by 3.2 million households when it was first broadcast, making it the highest rated cable program the week it aired. The episode marked the first appearance of Satan, who would become a recurring South Park character, as well as the character of Damien himself, who was inspired by the antagonist of the 1976 horror film, The Omen. Parker and Stone also said the episode introduced several key characteristics of the Cartman character that have endured throughout the rest of the series. Michael Buffer, the boxing ring announcer best known for the catchphrase, "Let's get ready to rumble!", makes a guest appearance in "Damien" as himself.
Then there’s the “chickenpox” episode, where the boys take revenge on their parents for trying to get the kids infected with chickenpox.
In this episode, chickenpox begins to spread throughout South Park, and infects Stan's sister Shelley and Kenny; though the boys are not sickened by it (it is a form of herpes, they discover), the moms begin to think that maybe the other boys should be exposed to it too, so as to get it while they are young and it is easier to deal with. They agree, and the other boys stay over at Kenny's house. The boys are less than enthusiastic about spending the night over at Kenny's because he is so poor. The dinner is a meagre waffle per person with no side dishes. The next day, Cartman and Stan get sick, but not Kyle. Stan's chickenpox gets so bad he has to be brought to the hospital with Shelley.
Stan breaks out of the hospital, and all of the boys go to try to get revenge on the adults for what they did; they do this unaware that Stan is so sick that he might die. The parents begin a frantic search, while the boys go see Old Frida, a local prostitute with herpes in her mouth, who they pay to go to their homes and lick, touch and otherwise mess with the parents' stuff to give them all herpes. The parents find them and bring them back to the hospital; at this point Kyle finally falls ill and passes out on the floor, making Sheila realize what a horrible thing she has done.
All the boys wind up in the hospital, and the parents get herpes, which they agree was a fair idea for what they tried to do. They all have a laugh about it.
"Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" is the fourth episode of first season of the animated television series South Park. It originally aired on September 3, 1997. The episode was written by series co-founders Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and directed by Parker. In this episode,Stan's dog, Sparky, is assumed to be gay after humping a rival male dog. Bowing to social pressure, Stan tries to make him more masculine, and as a result, Sparky runs away and ends up at Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary. Stan comes to understand homosexuality and tries to make everyone in South Park accept it.
"Big Gay Al's Gay Boat Ride" addressed open homosexuality in a way that was uncommon for television at the time, which created some anxiety among Comedy Central executives. The network initially objected to offensive remarks made by sports commentators in the episode, but the comments were kept in at the insistence of Parker and Stone. George Clooney made a guest appearance as Sparky, a throwaway part with no dialogue except for dog barks.
The episode marked the first appearance of Big Gay Al and generally received positive reviews for its portrayal of homosexuality. Creators Stone and Parker considered it their favourite episode of the first season, noting that it helped elevate the credibility and relevance of South Park during its early days. It was nominated for both an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program and a GLAAD Award, and was the episode submitted when South Park won a CableACE Award for outstanding animated series.
Due to restrictions on copyright, I am unable to download any episodes, or clips from South Park; but here are the two writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, talking about it.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Friday, 22 July 2011
We’ve forgotten about the old gods, the gods of the wind and oceans; the forests and rivers. But if we’ve forgotten about them, they haven’t forgotten about us. They just choose to ignore us; but they are watchful in their slumber. Sometimes, perhaps, the old gods dream of us.
The problem with the old gods, is that when they decide to take their drowsy action, they are not at all discerning. They don’t really care who gets in the way; and why should they? As far as they are concerned, we’re none of us innocent. They don’t answer questions, those old gods; the judgement is final and if the little people get in the way, it’s too bad.
An atrocity is occurring and as usual, mankind is at the bottom of it. Mankind is damming the beautiful Cahulawassee River. Mankind, in the form of the power company, is going to turn the beautiful river, with its rapids, woodlands and panoramic views, into a dull, flat lake.
It will be a rape; a desecration. It is sacrilegious.
“Deliverance”, really is one of the great suspense films. And without being too fanciful, I do have that chilling sensation that something else is at work here. Whether that something else, is a manifestation of those old, primitive gods taking vengeance, or simply a group of city guys totally out of their depth, in the face of a world where the normal rules of civilisation don’t apply, I don’t know. But you do get the feeling that you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Maybe it’s the camera angles, maybe it’s the use of light and shade. But the hair stands up on the back of your neck; a primal reaction to the something that is creeping up behind you.
It’s been a while since I first saw it, but I watched John Boorman’s 1972 film, of James Dickey’s novel, “Deliverance”, last week. I hadn’t forgotten how good it is, but I had sort of forgotten about some memorable performances and stunning direction. I needed to remind myself of the chilling impact that the film had on me when I first saw it.
We join “Deliverance” at the point where four friends plan on a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River. The four are in high spirits; there is a sadness that the beauty that they see before them, will soon disappear, but apart from Lewis, a weekend “survivalist”, played by Burt Reynolds, they bow to the inevitable.
In his review of “Deliverance”, Steve Rhodes informs;
“The movie opens disarmingly as Drew, played by Ronnie Cox, plays a good-spirited, impromptu duet with a young, backwoods, mountain boy playing his banjo. This hauntingly tranquil banjo music will reappear periodically during the film, as will scenes of the placid sections of the river. And there will be peaceful shots of roaring campfires and of the river at twilight, all to provide sharp contrast to the horror of their journey.
Different rules apply, out in the wilds of Georgia; they are far away from the tame influence of modern civilisation. Ironically that's exactly the quality that attracts the four urban businessmen of James Dickey's novel, the chance to pit themselves against Nature. Of course what they want is not actual risk but its semblance, a taster sharp enough to remind them that they're alive”.
Anything could happen -- and does.
Steve Rhodes continues;
“It's a palpable sensation, a horror so intense you want to curl into a foetal ball. The cast really does a superb job of communicating their terror, the certainty that they're mixed up in something beyond their comprehension. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, as Ed, take the ultimate honours in this, modulating themselves through the full gamut of emotion, moving from excitement to happiness to panic to grim desperation. Yet at the same time “Deliverance” never loses sight of their roots, the cultural decency that becomes something of a liability in this sort of situation. Ned Beatty, as Bobby Trippe and Ronnie Cox very nearly attain the same heights, with the former, central to one of the most harrowing scenes in any '70s film. Several times Boorman leaves you open-mouthed in shock, stunned at the enormity of what you're witnessing, yet the actors are good enough to make the material hit home without numbing. This is a world turned upside-down and they're living through it.
In his review, Damian Cannon tells us;
“Dickey's narrative is carefully structured for maximum impact, an effect enhanced in Deliverance by Tom Priestley's well-judged editing. The pace picks up with the film's memorable banjo duel and never lets up, not once. The characters are supremely ordinary and the cast, in a fine acting style, makes them believably naive. Thrust into the real-life Tallulah Gorge, the peril that they're in, barely seems fictional, thanks to the awesome camerawork of Vilmos Zsigmond. In his hands the river springs to life, toying with these unwise canoeists, pondering whether it should be merciful or merciless. Around these four there is scenery of intense hue and shade, a backdrop mighty enough to awe a brave man into weeping; yet they don't see it, so consumed are they by the desire to survive. It seems as though the hellish ordeal will never end, and in some ways it never does.
From start to finish, “Deliverance” is a film of rare power, focused towards a single end. It throbs with tension and fear, a reaction to the forces arrayed against our weekend paddlers. As the drama unfolds, Dickey skilfully guides you into contact with the characters, understanding their motivations. The four, Lewis and Ed leading, are well balanced, providing everything that the film requires. Merely watching them paddle, gaining confidence from their rapid-shooting success, is a delight. When the hillbilly conflict arrives, from the merest bad timing, it propels the film onto another level; yet the battle is mostly psychological, there's barely any contact between the two sides. This is where John Boorman's direction astonishes, in his conjuring of menace from thin air. He doesn't need to show us the danger, only the suggestion”.
1972 is a long time ago, but “Deliverance” is still an important, iconic film. Its indictment is profound and powerful. The accusation makes us tremble, because we know that we are all guilty.
“In 2008, “Deliverance” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.” WIKI
This review was put together using sources from the Web.
Friday, 15 July 2011
They were just children; yet on the 22nd July 1954,in Christchurch New Zealand, Pauline Parker, aged 16, and Juliet Hulme, aged 15, committed the most heinous of crimes. They murdered Pauline’s mother. Honora Rieper.
That morning Honora had gone for a walk through Victoria Park with her daughter Pauline Parker, and Pauline's best friend, Juliet Hulme. Approximately 420 feet (130 m) down the path, in a wooded area of the park near a small wooden bridge, Hulme and Parker bludgeoned Honora Rieper to death with half a brick enclosed in an old stocking. After committing the carefully planned murder, the two girls fled, covered in blood, back to the tea kiosk where the three of them had eaten only minutes before. They were met by Agnes and Kenneth Ritchie, owners of the tea shop, whom they told in a horrified panic that Honora had fallen and hit her head. The body of Honora Rieper was found by Kenneth Ritchie. Major lacerations were found about Honora's head, neck, and face, with minor injuries to her fingers. Police soon discovered the murder weapon in the nearby woods. The girls' story of how Honora was killed by a fall quickly fell apart.
These two young women had a relationship that could be based on adolescent "folie a deux". They supported their instabilities by their closeness to each other.
Pauline was dark and brooding while Juliet was bright and intelligent. They both thought they were superior to all people.
There are two key points as to why they murdered Mrs Parker. One was a scheme to save money and go to the United States to sell their novels. The second was that Juliet's father planned to move to South Africa and separate the two. Pauline's mother refused to let her go with Juliet and her family. The girls were determined not to be separated.
Violent death was rare in conservative Christchurch. The girls’ story, that the mother of one of them, Honora Parker, had fallen and repeatedly banged her head, soon disintegrated; her injuries were too horrific. A bloodied half-brick and a lisle stocking were found nearby and quickly established as the murder weapon. Pauline Parker’s diary was found immediately by the police and detailed their plans for the crime.
The case brought together several disturbing elements - females who stepped outside the expected gender role by becoming perpetrators, rather than victims of a violent crime, and the frightening prospect of young girl delinquents as killers.
Other entries in Pauline’s diary suggested a sexual relationship between the girls, and this helped to establish the crime as one linking the twin spectres of lesbianism and murder.
The class-difference between the girls was an important element of the trial, though not referred to in modern terms. Juliet was the elder child of Hilda Hulme, a vice-president of the Marriage Guidance Council, and Dr Henry Hulme, rector of Canterbury University College, while Pauline’s father, Herbert Rieper, ran a fish-shop, and was legally married to another woman. (Honora and Herbert had lived together for 23 years and the whole family including Pauline were known as Rieper until the trial.). Pauline was the second of three daughters. (A firstborn son had died as a baby, and the third daughter had Down’s Syndrome.)
The two elements of Pauline’s diary on which attention has focussed since selected entries were presented at the trial are the gangster-movie tone in which they planned the killing ("moider") and the sexual relations between the girls. A passage about the girls re-enacting lovemaking between famous (heterosexual) couples was a particular favourite of the tabloids. (It reappeared in a New Zealand womens’ magazine in 1997.)
There is no doubt the girls found solace in each being an outsider. (Juliet’s family was atypical for its day, her mother’s lover Walter Perry - a former marriage guidance client - living in the house with them while they preserved a mask of respectability.
Pauline’s household was crowded with family and boarders; privacy was an issue.) Their friendship was correspondingly passionate and mutual, but whether it can be called lesbian as we now understand the term is a matter of opinion. It was certainly depicted as lesbian in the courtroom by both the prosecution and the defence, and entered New Zealand mythology on homosexuality as a cautionary tale with which to warn women, and especially young girls, of the possible consequences of such "unnatural" relationships.
Both girls did a good deal of creative writing both separately and together, which the defence tried to use as a proof of their insanity. In particular, defence psychiatrist Dr Reginald Medlicott fastened on an unusual entry where Pauline wrote that they had had a visionary experience together on Good Friday, 1953, at Port Levy, in which they found "the key to the fourth world" where they would go when they died.
Soon after Juliet found her mother in bed with Perry, the Hulme household collapsed. Dr Hulme was asked to resign as rector and the Hulmes decided to divorce. Juliet was to be sent to South Africa to stay with an aunt while her brother Jonathan went with his father to England. The Reipers were relieved that the girls were to be separated, but Pauline wrote in her diary that Hilda Hulme encouraged her to believe that she could go with them to England. The impending separation was presented by both defence and prosecution as the motive for the killing. The book "Parker & Hulme: a Lesbian View" explores other possibilities. The trial was a cause célèbre with crowds packing every session.
“The defence conceded the fact of the killing, but attempted to prove the girls "mad"; the prosecution that they were just "bad". Dr Medlicott diagnosed chronic delusional insanity - paranoia. Local psychiatrist Dr Maurice Bevan-Brown was to publish a paper (without ever having seen the girls) diagnosing "Pathological Character Trait". ("Homosexuality in late adolescence is always a sign of emotional immaturity," he wrote.) Dr Kenneth Stallworthy for the prosecution disputed that homosexuality and paranoia were closely related.
In the event, both prosecution and defence agreed that the girls failed the 19th century test for legal insanity - they knew the nature and quality of their act: "they knew what they were doing and they knew that it was wrong."
It took the jury less than three hours to find both girls guilty of murder. Since they were under 18, they could not be sentenced to death, so they were imprisoned "during Her Majesty’s pleasure."
The real significance of the case in New Zealand is the negative attitudes it created about lesbians, especially for teenage girls, for many years afterward. Throughout New Zealand, but especially in Christchurch, the mythic link between "lesbian" and "killer" had been re-affirmed. This affected not only heterosexuals, but also young lesbians’ attitude toward themselves, creating the fear that any hostility they might feel towards their mothers was their own share of the Parker-Hulme "pathology". Any girl who seemed more than usually attracted to a friend was likely to fill her parents with fear. Others, however, were beneficially alerted by the case to the existence of other lesbians.”
From: Queer History, New Zealand;
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender;
New Zealand History.
Juliet Hulme is now called Anne Perry. She lives in a small Scottish fishing village and is a best selling U.S. author, who writes mystery books. She has had no contact with Pauline Parker since their conviction, nearly 40 years ago, which was a condition of their sentence. She says she has tried to forget what happened and as a mature woman, believes she has long since paid her dues.
I cannot find out what has happened to Pauline Parker.
Friday, 8 July 2011
“Fantastically deranged at all times, Darren Aronofsky's ballet psycho-melodrama is a glittering, crackling, outrageously pickable scab of a film.”
Peter Bradshaw writing in The Guardian newspaper. Thursday 20 January 2011 14.59 GMT
Nina Sayers is a young ballerina. Played by Natalie Portman, she is ethereal, stunningly beautiful, fragile, vulnerable, inexperienced, naïve and just slightly psychotic. She is also fearful. Fearful of her own body and fearful of letting go. She has to let go; if she is to dance the role that she, and other ballerinas dream of, she must strip away the façade, break down the wall she has erected around herself and dig deep into her psyche. She has to find the raw sexual urgency to dance the counterpart of the white swan. She has to become the black swan.
Nina is in a perpetual state of anxiety; she hallucinates; she fears that her reflection in the mirror continues to stare at her, after she has turned away. She is teetering on the edge of mental collapse. Real screaming madness isn’t far away. Her art is her life, as she strives to perfect her dance. Yet her mind and body seem to be in collaboration against her. She has an ugly skin irritation on her shoulder, brought about by unconscious self harming. The skin irritation is a physical manifestation of the state of her mind.
The sharp images of the phallus in the “Black Swan” emphasise Nina’s fear of penetration. These images are shown in shards of broken glass, and a dangerous nail file. Then there is the overwhelmingly male svengali figure, Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassel, the director of the ballet company. He also signifies the phallus. Nina fears his charisma, his maleness, she is drawn to him, she fears being supplanted in his affections.
Rehearsals progress; the need for perfection is intoxicating; but still she cannot access the darker, sensual side of her psyche. She has to release herself. She has to possess the virginal grace of the White Swan, but also the elemental passion of the Black Swan.
Nina, Thomas Leroy believes, lacks the latter; she is too poised, too much in control.
Thomas Leroy tells her, to go home and touch herself.
Her fears of sensual experience, are compounded by her toxic relationship with her mother, played by Barbara Hershey. Nina’s mother has done her utmost to keep her daughter a little girl. Nina’s bedroom is girlish, it is overwhelmingly pink; filled with stuffed toys and a music box that plays the theme from Swan Lake.
Nina’s visual hallucinations are expressed through the many mirrors of the dance studio. Her image is constantly thrown back to herself and the viewer. Her anxieties about whether she’s good enough; her growing paranoia that another dancer, the more naturally expressive Lily (Mila Kunis), is plotting to take her role. The borderline-schizophrenia is induced by the doubleness of her character; soon she’s not so much untethered as unhinged. The viewer shares Nina’s jittering anxiety.
I wanted to enjoy “Black Swan”, but I did find it rather predictable. From the beginning of the film, the viewer recognises Nina as a troubled personality. Nina sees her doppelgänger, she self mutilates. The pressures on her are intense as she tries to please her controlling mother and strives to satisfy her demanding director. Her move towards complete mental breakdown is inevitable; the viewer sees this and knows that the eventual outcome will be tragic.
“Freud said that meeting one’s doppelgänger in life or in dreams produces sensations of the uncanny, but isn’t one double enough? This movie has three sets: there’s also the washed-up ballerina (played, in a cruel bit of casting, by Winona Ryder) who previously danced the role, and whom Nina tries to emulate, as well as replace. Actually, there are four, if you count Nina’s mother, with whom Nina shares a clammily intimate relationship and the same pulled-back hair and clenched manner.”
David Denby writing in “The New Yorker”. December 6th 2010
In a way though, the film irritated me; I felt manipulated by the rather obvious Freudian perspectives. For example -- sharp pointy thing equals phallus, and fear of penetration. The ugly irritation on Nina’s shoulder is paradoxically placed from where a swan’s wing would sprout. The film is an exercise in psychoanalytical theory; it’s almost as if the writers got together, read Freud and Jung, then wrote the film around their ideas. It’s textbook, the classical players are all here; the overbearing, Superego of a mother, the fragile, repressed Ego hero, the free-spirited Id. The Bad Mother, the Hero, the Shadow, the Father.
And for that reason, I found the film contrived. As I said, I wanted to enjoy “Black Swan”, but in cluttering up the film with Freud and Jung, I think that the director muddled a good story. And of course, the original story of “Swan Lake” lends itself to a psychoanalytical reading, all stories do. I just felt irritated with psychoanalysis being force fed to me.
I hate to give any work of art a bad review -- marring someone’s little bit of creativity. It’s a shame I felt overwhelmed by psychoanalysis, because “Black Swan” is still a beautiful film. The dancers have that austere elegance that leaves me breathless. The film’s striking design, makeup and costume, command the attention and Tchaikovsky’s music keeps the viewer in a state of rapt awe. Darren Aronofsky’s direction is sharp and precise. It re-tells an old, old story… It’s just a pity that he let Freud and Jung take over.
Friday, 1 July 2011
Félicien Rops was a Belgian artist, specialising in printmaking, etching and aquatint. He lived from July 1833 until August 1898. He trained at the University of Brussels and his work was part of, and complimented the literary movement, illustrating Symbolism and Decadence.
Although the movements of Symbolism and Decadence can be considered to be similar in one respect, the two remain distinct..
Decadence was the name given, originally by hostile critics, to several late nineteenth-century writers, who valued artifice more than the earlier Romantics naïve descriptions. Some of them adopted the name, referring to themselves as "Decadents". For the most part, they were influenced by the tradition of the Gothic novel and by the poetry and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe.
In Britain the main person associated with Decadence was Oscar Wilde.
Rops’ forté was drawing, more than painting in oils; he first won fame as a caricaturist. He experimented with a distinctive printmaking technique called "soft varnish" which resulted in an image that was very close to drawing, eventually mastering the technique after years of experimentation. He sketched incessantly and feverishly.
Like the works of the authors whose poetry he illustrated his work tends to mingle sex, death, and satanic images.
Rops met Charles Baudelaire towards the end of the poet's life in 1864, and Baudelaire left an impression upon him that lasted until the end of his days. Rops’ created the frontispiece for Baudelaire's Les Épaves, a selection of poems from Les Fleurs du mal that had been censored in France, and which therefore were published in Belgium.
Rops’ association with Baudelaire and with the art he represented, won his work the admiration of many other writers, including Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, and Joséphin Péladan.
But let’s look at the art and see if we can fathom what critics and supporters of Rops’ were talking about.
Pornocrates by Félicien Rops.Etching and aquatint.
The etching has a defiantly pornographic tone. An almost naked, blindfolded, curvaceous woman, is led by a fat swine from somewhere, to nowhere. Cherubs flit like butterflies in misty blue. It is an image from a dream, tipping over into a nightmare. The erotica is explicit. Yes -- the woman is almost naked, but the few clothes she wears emphasise the helplessness of her situation.
Yet, she is dressed in garments that suggest that she is in control. Heeled shoes, long, opera gloves and sexy stockings. The silken blue sash emphasises her nudity. It is a work of art for the voyeur; there is a feeling that it is staged, that the subject wants to be seen in her decadent glory. Perhaps she is saying; “look at me!”
Or is this a pornographic fantasy that the woman is determined to see through, despite stepping into the realms of the taboo? The little tipping hat that she wears, suggests that she is someone of consequence; the dream symbolism is perhaps telling us something about ourselves. she has given up control, but she is in control.
It seems that Rops is illustrating the theories of Freud and Jung. No matter how hard we try to suppress our darkest thoughts, no matter our place in the social scale, our darkest desires will surface in art, fantasies and dreams; the stories that we tell.
In a letter to his friend Henri Liesse, Rops described the painting:
"My Pornocratie is complete. This drawing delights me. I would like to show you this beautiful naked girl, clad only in black shoes and gloves in silk, leather and velvet, her hair styled. Wearing a blindfold she walks on a marble stage, guided by a pig with a "golden tail" across a blue sky. Three loves - ancient loves - vanish in tears. I did this in four days in a room of blue satin, in an overheated apartment, full of different smells, where the opopanax and cyclamen gave me a slight fever conducive towards production or even towards reproduction". --Letter from Rops to Henri Liesse, 1879.
Whereas many artists of the time might hint at a fashionable blasphemy or satanism, Rops’ dealings with these subjects were unequivocal, as was the blatant, pornographic tone of many of his drawings.
In this parody of the crucifixion Rops is being deliberately shocking to the lecherous edge of perversity. The contorted body of the Christ figure, has goat’s legs and feet. He looks down at the woman beneath; his expression is agonising. There is pain, and something else; depravity. More than decadence, the work expresses a raw, rapacious lust, that doesn’t know where to stop. The creature’s phallus rests upon the woman’s cheek; she is bound to the figure by some sort of strap. Her pose reflects that of the crucifixion, more so than that of the figure on the cross. The scarlet backdrop signifies corruption.
“Calvary” is brutal; insolent. Rops does not care about the viewer’s sensibilities; and why should he? He is being deliberately provocative. You don’t have to look, but he dares you to. If you were to challenge him, I think that his response would be; “well so what”! He is in the business of shocking and here he takes the sentimental, traditional view of the Passion of Christ, and shows it for the blasphemy and obscenity that it is.
It still has pathos, you can see it in the tortured grimaces. But it’s a work about sex and death; sex and religion. In particular I think that it is an exposition of the Roman Catholic tradition of faith and sacrifice. The life of dedication that Catholicism exhorts from the blindly faithful.
THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY
Saint Anthony kneels at the lectern, one bony leg outstretched as if in preparation to flee. He needs a place of security, far away from the horrors of blasphemy. His hands attempt to shield his ears from the raucous din. The figure on the cross compounds the blasphemy; it is the figure of a young, voluptuous woman, her soft, yielding breasts thrusting forwards towards the baffled saint. “Eros” replaces “Inri” at the pinnacle of the cross. The banished Christ is on her right, on her left, a ragged demon, behind the cross a swine stares intently, his forelegs raised. Tiny skeletonised demons flit like bats in the darkening sky. Can Saint Anthony resist the allure of the image? The image that so brutally usurps the Christian message.
The violent image seems to have occurred as the Saint turns the pages of the scriptures. Looking closely, I think that I can see the banishment of Adam and Eve, the first sinners. Perhaps this is encouraging Anthony to hold fast to his faith.
The earliest paintings to employ the scene were Italian frescos of the 10th century. The later European Middle Ages saw accumulation of the theme in book illumination and later in German woodcuts. About 1500 originated the famous paintings of Martin schöngauer (ca. 1490), Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1505) and Mathias Grünewald (ca. 1510). In the modern era the theme has been treated by the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí and the French author Gustave Flaubert, who considered his 1874 bookThe Temptation of saint Anthony to be his master work.
PIC "La Buveuse d Absinthe"
“Félicien Rops drew "La Buveuse d Absinthe" (meaning specifically the female absinthe drinker) in 1865 at the age of around 32 and frequently afterwards drew the same subject over the next 30 years. The picture always shows a slender woman leaning against a pillar outside a dance-hall, her low neckline and fine dress showing she is part of the nightlife. Her insouciant attitude, accompanied by her staring eyes, slightly opened mouth and haggard expression suggesting that she is a prostitute. She became the archetype of the female absinthe drinker.”
“Joris-Karl Huysmans, writer of A Rebours (meaning 'against the grain'), often said to be the supreme expression of the decadent spirit, described Rops’ absinthe drinker:
“M. Rops has created a type of woman that we will dream of, dream of again and be drawn back to, the type of absinthe drinker who, brutalised and hungry, grows ever more menacing and more voracious, with her face frozen and empty, villainous and hard, with her limpid eyes with a look as fixed and cruel as a lesbian's, with her mouth a little open, her nose regular and short ... the girl bitten by the green poison leans her exhausted spine on a column of the bal Mabille and it seems that the image of syphilitic Death is going to cut short the ravaged thread of her life.”
“On exhibition of his absinthe drinker at the International Exhibition of Fine Art in his home town of Namur in Belgium, Rops felt himself "spat upon": The picture outraged the critics and the local civic establishment issued an official rebuke to the artist, who 'far from consecrating his talent to the reproduction of gracious and elegant works, prostitutes his pencil complacently to the reproduction of scenes imprinted with a repellent realism”.
With unconcealed glee at this notoriety, Rops wrote to his friend Jean d'Ardenne how his La Buveuse d'Absinthe blew the minds ('les têtes... s'epanouissaient') of his bourgeois countrymen.'
Two women rage in an orgy of carnal lust. Cunnilingus, tongues, lips, teeth, juices. The image tells a story of how women are able to feel about sex, there is the potential for women to feel earthy, feral, rather than the sanitised presentation of the erotica in the tradition of Ingres. Women can be active, not simply passive recipients. The image is raw, primal and urgent. Their need is overpowering and overwhelming. There is nothing about making love in this drawing and it is as far away from Gustave Courbet’s tender image of “The Sleepers” as you can get. Rops’ depiction of women having sex is about possibilities; the possibility for women to indulge totally in the dark side of desire.
Well, to me, it’s a celebration of life, of sexuality in all of its guises. The woman has an erect penis; or does the man have voluptuous breasts? It doesn’t matter; contorted figures writhe in blatantly sexual poses at the base of the picture. Is the artist saying; “It doesn’t matter what your sexual proclivity is, just do it?”
In his prolific body of work, Rops demonstrates that posterity favours the forthright and the unique over uniformity and compromise.
Like the works of the authors whose poetry he illustrated, his work tends to mingle sex, death, and satanic images in a way which shocked many of his contemporaries and is sometimes disturbing even today.
There can be no doubt that Félicien Robs adored sex and he adored women; their taste, their scent, their texture. His adoration is reflected in his work. In a poignant letter to Louise Danse he opens up about his personal insecurities.
“ Each time autumn arrives with its austere intoxications, I suffer as if every hope that I carry within me and which are the same as those that illuminated my twentieth year were going to expire forever along with the dead leaves. I am so afraid of being old and of no longer being able to inspire love in a woman, which is a true death for a man of my nature, and with my needs for madness of mind and body.”
Thanks to Jan Vander Laenen for introducing the artist to me, and suggesting this post.