Preferred Citation: Horton, Andrew, and Stuart Y. McDougal, editors Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.




The French Remark:
Breathless and Cinematic Citationality

David Wills

I am not, it seems, in the cinema. Not even in the video. This all comes at a complicated series of removes. At some point I could have said, "I am in the cinema," and left the ambiguity at play between the theater room and the film on the screen. The metonymy works for theater and cinema, but not for video. Yet this is the position I am in, watching a film on video years after its commercial release. In fact, since I was only six in 1959, I was never in the cinema of A bout de souffle; it has always come to me by means of a series of detours. But the metonymic ambiguity of being in the cinema allows for that, and a more general detour mechanism allows even for the current state of affairs whereby I am watching the American remake of A bout de souffle (Breathless , 1983) before I take another look at the original. The chronological wires are crossed: the first thing I watch is a remake.

So it seems I am really not in the cinema. Not even in the video. I am here uttering these things to you the reader, having been there, various versions of "there," writing them. Everything I utter has a complicated play of quotation marks about it, not just because this reading is something of a recital of what I have previously written, but because in a more irredeemable fashion everything I write refers back to a "there"—a film, an experience of watching it, over and over—it refers back to an act of detaching, operations of excision and grafting, functions of de- and recontextualization. That which is a necessary fact of any reading, what we can call the "quotation" or "citation" effect, becomes even more explicitly the case once we come to talk about remakes.

But perhaps I am in the cinema. Perhaps even in the film. Perhaps, even as I write this in front of a screen—a cinema screen, a TV-video screen, a word processor monitor screen, a page—and even as this gets repeated like some sort of screen in front of its submobile and visually stimulated, if not


scopophilic, reader, I am more than ever in the cinema. I say that because as viewer and reader myself I am automatically and inevitably involved in the grafting or (de) recontextualization process just referred to. But I by no means initiate such a process. The film was never an intact and coherent whole offered up for my consumption. It was always, one might say, in the process of writing itself. Quoting, one might say "always already." Always writing and quoting itself. Remarking and remaking itself. Thus what is being commonly and communally referred to here as the remake, the possibility that exists for a film to be repeated in a different form, should rather be read as the necessary structure of iterability that exists for and within every film. That, at least, is my hypothesis, drawn of course from Derrida in work such as "Signature Event Context" (1982) and "The Law of Genre" (1980). First, "every sign . . . can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts, in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion"; but second, as a corollary to that "the possibility of citational grafting . . . belongs to the structure of every mark" and "constitutes every mark as writing" (1982, 320), that is to say, as iterable mark, as remark, as remake. And the cinematic mark is no exception. The slightest mark is being remarked or remade even as it is being uttered or written, to the extent that it cannot make itself as full presence, as intact and coherent entity. It constitutes itself as reconstitutable, at least it must do so in order to function, that is to say, in order to make sense.

Thus what this book refers to as the remake—the essays demonstrate that as soon as we investigate the category its edges begin to blur—is but a particular case of what exists within the structure of every film. The remake has its own codes and practices and by means of them it is able to distinguish itself from another category of films: those not remade in the same set of varied institutional forms. But what distinguishes the remake is not the fact of its being a repetition, rather the fact of its being a precise institutional form of the structure of repetition, what I am calling the "quotation effect" or "citation effect," the citationality or iterability, that exists in and for every film.

The particular case of the remake that I remark upon here is that of the French film reconstituted as Hollywood product. Now, given that something like the Hollywood film or the "classic narrative film" seeks to erase the traces of its own production, and given that, as I have just maintained, after Derrida, the form of production of any mark can be called, between quotation marks, "writing," then it stands to reason that what a Hollywood remake would seek to erase from a French film would be precisely the traces of writing. For purposes of economy, shortly to be explained, I shall concentrate that idea by proposing the following self-evidence: what the Hollywood remake seeks to have erased from a French film is quite simply the subtitles. I can hear the reproach that my argument, quoted from


Derrida, for an idea of "writing" as trace that belongs to every mark, is negated or at least rendered seriously reductive by this recourse to writing in the literal sense of words upon the screen representing a translation of what can be heard on the sound track. However, my strategy has its own logic, namely, that it is the particularly explicit and privileged manifestation of the structure of writing that is the subtitle that enables me to develop the sense of the remake and remark, and that for the following reasons.

First, the subtitles do not—or at least the same ones do not—appear in the "original" foreign language version. When they do appear, as for instance in the English-language version, they show the film "in process," in production if you will: in the process of being transposed, translated, exported. They show that in being exported the film explicitly reveals its supplementary structure, its iterability, its (de) recontextualization. As a result the film might be said to come apart at a most basic level of cinema, namely, in the combination of image and sound tracks. Once subtitles are added the sound track reveals its difference from the image track—the seamlessness of spoken dialogue and moving lips is rent—but it does so on the level of the image track such that the seamlessness of the image track itself as coherent or intact reproduction of the real, as uniform visual surface and depth, is also rent.

Second, as I have noted (and I am saying nothing but the obvious here, nothing that has not already been observed or said, for I am quite simply quoting), the subtitles offer a translation of what is heard on the sound track, and as such they repeat the spoken sound track and so repeat the structure of iterability of the film. For in writing itself and in automatically being rewritten, the film translates itself, repeats itself with a difference, recontextualizes itself to a foreign place within itself. But the repeating effect is redoubled as it is reflected in the inversion[1] of the translated subtitles. The subtitles provide an abyssal form of that iterability by being inserted into the film or inscribed on the surface of the film; by appearing at the bottom of the screen they cause the bottom of the film to fall out.

Last, the translation that is the subtitles renders explicit the particular form of transposition that the Hollywood remake of a foreign film involves, namely, its removal to a more familiar place—a tramp falls into a Beverly Hills swimming pool instead of the Seine (Down and Out in Beverly Hills [1985], Boudu sauvé des eaux [1932]), a Las Vegas petty criminal falls for a French architecture student instead of a French existentialist hero falling for an American student and would-be journalist (Breathless [1983], A bout de souffle [1959]), three men are reset with their baby in America (Trois hommes et un couffin [1985], Three Men and a Baby [1987], like the cousins in love (Cousin, cousine [1975], Cousins [1989], like the recidivist female punk heroine called in to work for this government (La Femme Nikita [1991], Point of No Return [1993]), and so on. The remake neutralizes the otherness


of the foreign film, in general, but in no way more clearly than by effacing the subtitles. However, the paradox is that in erasing the effects of otherness, in removing the subtitles, Hollywood is duped into believing it has restored the seamlessness of a coherent, intact, and consumable image (and sound). It is unaware that it is working within the structure of the supplement and adding to, rather than subtracting from, the play of differences. The film Hollywood produces becomes enfolded into the abyss that is the subtitles of the original film. As a translation and transposition of the foreign original, it takes the place of the explicit form of that foreignness that inhabits the subtitles, it inscribes itself within the structure of noncoherence and nonintegrality, and, in transferring the film to a familiar context, however much it might presume to erase those effects of difference, it simply carries them over into the new product. That is, in any case, my contention, and I would like to explore it further through the remaking of Godard's A bout de souffle into Jim McBride's Breathless .[2]

Godard's film is quite obviously a privileged object for this discussion. It is a film that is less obviously concerned with the erasure of the traces of its own production than many others, although more so than other Godard films. And it is a film that has been given a thoroughly Derridean reading by Marie-Claire Ropars in her exemplary article "The Graphic in Filmic Writing: A bout de souffle or the Erratic Alphabet." But for these same reasons it is a highly unusual candidate for a Hollywood remake. Given the level of its "invention" when it appeared in 1959, its use of the jump cut, its borrowings from film noir and Hollywood, its self-reflexivity in general, it would seem to present a number of quandaries for whomever sought to make it over in the early eighties, inevitably raising the questions of neutralization and domestication. Dated as a revolutionary film, as one of a group of films that brought in the New Wave, but also dated by that historical reference, it could not but represent a problem of transposition, the problem of transposition and translation, the problem of the remake as remark. Although the film was made by a director known for his independence, and although McBride argued strongly for the right to remake the film and fought hard to produce something worthy of the original (cf. McBride, 1983), the American Breathless met with a lukewarm critical reception on both sides of the Atlantic, being dismissed as academic and certainly "not Godard."

However, I find what results to be particularly interesting: on the one hand McBride's film demonstrates the practical compromise of a film that has retained something of the "hip" quality of Godard's film but privileges the narrative structure more than does the French original, while on the other hand it reveals that what I have just called a "compromise," putting the word between quotation marks, is a fact of any film and any remake: it



Figure 18.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg capture the cross-cultural
playfulness of postmodern young love in Godard's  Breathless  (1959).

necessarily both covers and fails to cover the discontinuities or incoherences that structure it; it can only ever repeat itself as difference and inscribe those differences in the process of its writing. In other words, because of the multiple play of otherness that works so explicitly through A bout de souffle , two things occur: the first is another self-evidence, simply that not all the otherness gets neutralized; the second is the other side of that, namely, that otherness can never be neutralized, it will only ever reinscribe itself. Breathless is something of the dilemma those ideas represent.

In A bout de souffle small-time gangster Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) has had a brief affair with the American student, newspaper girl, and aspiring journalist Patricia Fracchini (Jean Seberg) on the Côte d'Azur. (See figure 18.) He halfheartedly kills a policeman, returns to Paris in order to fetch Patricia and flee to Italy, but is held up by her tergiversations and a check he can't cash and is finally killed by the police after she denounces him. In Breathless Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) has an affair with French architectural student Monica Poiccard (Valérie Kaprisky) in Vegas, even more "accidentally" kills a highway patrolman and returns to Los



Figure 19.
Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky pause while on the run
in Jim McBride's reverse-role remake of  Breathless  (1983).

Angeles to fetch her and head for Mexico. (See figure 19.) She also denounces him and he is presumably shot, although, as we shall see, the final frame does not show it.

One could discourse at length on the slight and not-so-slight differences between the two versions. Here are some of them: whereas Poiccard wants to be Bogart, Lujack wants to be Jerry Lee Lewis or the comic-book hero the Silver Surfer; whereas in the French version there is a long "seduction" scene in the cramped quarters of Patricia's Paris apartment, in the American version this scene takes place between the large rooms and swimming pool of a Los Angeles apartment block; whereas the Paris detectives say "[O]n ne plaisante pas avec la police parisienne" ("[O]ne doesn't kid around with the Paris police"), the American says "Don't F-U-C-K with the L-A-P-D"; whereas in Godard's film it is Godard himself who plays the part of a passerby who recognizes the gangster from a newspaper photograph, I have no idea whether the tramp on the steps of a church who does the same is Jim McBride; whereas it is the American woman who introduces the Frenchman to William Faulkner's work in Godard's film, it is the Frenchwoman who introduces the same to the American in Breathless . On the basis of those differences one might begin to make an argument concerning


McBride's adaptation of Godard's film, his domestication or neutralization of it. One might refer to the less marginalized, more institutionalized female figure that has the effect of making the narrative less psychologically convincing—Monica seems much "straighter" than Patricia, less likely to be seduced by Jesse, who appears in turn as more of a boor than Michel; or to the compromise required by changing standards of cultural literacy—Faulkner is considered to be enough of a foreign reference for an American audience without having recourse to some canonical example from French literature. But the explanations for such differences would have, somehow, to collaborate with that which they sought to describe or critique, to some extent explaining away the differences by taking into account the "practical" considerations of adaptation: changes in history as well as geography (De Gaulle's France on the cusp of the sixties versus Reagan's eighties); the desire for a psychological contrast that has Monica fascinated and seduced by someone totally opposite; the importance of the quotation from Faulkner in its own right ("Between grief and nothing I will take grief"). In other words in accounting for these sorts of differences one would get caught up precisely in the question of differences between one film and another, reaching down to the smallest details of the texts but overlooking for the most part the matter of differences within the text, its intrinsic remarkability.

In one respect the differences just referred to would lead us to such a remarkability, namely, in respect to what has been called the self-reflexivity of Godard's A bout de souffle , its constant reference to matters cinematic. However discussion of such references does not necessarily remove us from the framework of complicit explanation just referred to. While it is true that Bogart has been replaced by Jerry Lee Lewis, and film posters and young people selling cinema journals do not appear in or out of the background of Breathless , Hollywood can never be far from the foreground of a fantasy romance set in Los Angeles. And in any case references to cinema are not absent from McBride's film: there is an Antonioni-like frame of Monica standing at a bus stop that advertises the Hollywood Wax Museum, in front of a military cemetery; the final scene takes place in the ruins of Errol Flynn's "Pines"; and there is the sequence in the movie theater, much more developed than in Godard's film, that I shall return to shortly. The argument is easily made that it would not be a good artistic choice for a film made in the eighties to be self-conscious in the same way as one that was like a new wave breaking in 1959. Similarly, Godard's signatory appearance in his own film in fact says little. Presumably he was no more recognizable to a 1959 French audience than Jim McBride would have been to us in 1983. And what would a contemporary audience raised on Hollywood's permanent fear of self-recognition do with a camera jerking across the sky to the sound of gunshots as Godard's Michel pretends to shoot, like


a converse of Camus's outsider, at the blinding sun, or with a Michel who turns to the camera as he drives to say, "If you don't like the sea, if you don't like mountains, if you don't like cities, then go and get fucked!" (["allez vous fair foutre!"]—this last invective already sanitized by a milder translation in the subtitles)? These things have attained historical inscription as marks of Godard's filmmaking practice that can not easily be translated.[3] So the discussion would bring us back to questions of compromise and problems of translation without, for all that, allowing us to think the questions through very far.

Yet if we read such references less as self-consciousness or self-reflexivity and more as self-iterability, as cinema quoting itself, drawing attention to itself as effects of writing, such things come to form the basis for another level of dislocations that, as I have suggested, turn the question around. The film doesn't just say "I am a film, I am an object-in-construction being presented to you as a self-constituted commodity," it also says: "I am a series of images within images, sounds within sounds, subject to constant recontextualization. The images that constitute me are constantly undercut, in the process of their constitution, by their inability to define themselves as presences without at the same time falling prey to effects heterogeneous to those presumed definitions. Thus I am a series of images within images that are never just or never completely images, never untouched by radical difference, and never purely pictorial without also being graphic. There is never the immediacy of perceived objects without also the presence of hieroglyphic labyrinths; thus I am always graphic in two senses, that of the pictorial and that of the written." The still image of Bogart on the poster of The Harder They Fall and of Michel imitating the way Bogie passed his thumb across his lips becomes not just an image of a poorly formed identity, a petty criminal with personality problems trying to be a larger-than-life celluloid hero, but a type of freeze-frame that arrests the narrative flow, a silence within the noise and music of the continuous images, a problem of identity for the images themselves. The image of Bogart has inscribed upon it like a title or a signature the image of Poiccard, and vice versa. Similarly, when Godard playing a man on the street looks at a photograph in the newspaper he is reading, then looks at Michel, then back at the newspaper photograph, then crosses the street to show the same photograph to two policemen, Godard doesn't just sign his film and wink at the audience in the manner of Hitchcock. He transfers the question of identity posed at the level of the image—and repeated here by means of the competing images of Michel, still and moving, arrested and passing, here and there, past and present, print and celluloid, written and pictorial—he transfers that question of identity to the level of his film as a whole. Once Godard is in it, on its surface, it can no longer simply be a film he has made; nor does it become instead performance art; rather his appearance as a character point-


ing at an image in another medium, inscribing his body or his finger on its surface, is like a name written across his whole film that erases its wholeness and renders it irredeemably heterogeneous. Any translation or transposition of the film will henceforth necessarily be a translation of that heterogeneity, a translation from foreignness to foreignness.

In her article, Marie-Claire Ropars has traced such effects through the play of language in A bout de souffle , especially the play of the written word within the image. Although she in no way limits the idea of writing to these chance or designed appearances of the written word, her strategy enables her to develop the notion of an image constantly worked upon and over by its others. It is her conclusion that I have used as the basis for my argument here, namely, that what the film offers in the final analysis is a question about translation, a problem with translation. All the way through, A bout de souffle keeps coming back to the matter of inter- or translinguistic usage. And it would be incorrect to presume that that is all a function of a relationship between a less-than-bilingual American woman and a Frenchman. Patricia does get her French wrong from time to time, but Michel also corrects the usage of another woman, presumed to be French, whose apartment he visits in order to steal some money. And he himself resorts more than once to the Swiss usage for the numerals seventy and eighty (one could hear that as another signing by Godard, who is of Swiss origin). There is no pure French in the film, but always effects of translation, within a language, between languages.

However, it is in the final exchange of the film that, as Marie-Claire Ropars points out, the matter becomes concentrated, bringing with it a complicated thematics of misogyny that has the female bear the weight of linguistic otherness (156–58). "Tu es vraiment dégueulasse " ("You are really shitty," my translation), Michel says as he lies dying. When Patricia asks the policeman what he said he replies "Il a dit: 'Vous êtes vraiment une dégueulasse' " ("He said: You are really an arsehole" ["bitch" in subtitles]). This is no simple quotation of Michel's words by the policeman. First, he gives the effect of reported speech and so changes the familiar "tu" to the formal "vous," but at the same omits the "que " ("that") so that syntactically his words amount to a quotation of direct speech. But his quotation is a misquote, for he inserts an indefinite article before "dégueulasse " so that that adjective becomes a noun with a stronger sense—"shitty" becomes "arsehole" or something similar, just as "con " ("stupid") as adjective becomes "cunt" as a noun. Patricia is left asking "Qu'est-ce que c'est 'dégueulasse'? " ("What does 'dégueulasse ' mean?"), a question that receives no response, except in the subtitles of the English-language version where many of the preceding subtleties take on quite different nuances.[4]

In McBride's Breathless there are of course similar linguistic transpositions. First of all Monica has a foreign version of the French name "Monique."


She has to have Jesse explain to her what jinxed means, and what a desperado is, although in the latter case the word should be evident enough to a speaker of a Romance language. She refers to Jesse as "taré ," another word that can alternate between an adjective and a noun—"It means crazy, a disgusting person, jerk," she explains—and he appropriates the word for his own use. But in the American film, as in the French, the most interesting linguistic play occurs in the more precise form of the misquotation, in terms of a translation that occurs more strictly within the space of the same.

The first example comes from the scene in the cinema. Here, the characters enter the space behind the screen and watch the images in mirrored form playing in black and white before them. This is first of all, it seems to me, a more radical mise en abyme of the cinematic than anything in A bout de souffle . There are competing cinematic surfaces, inscribing their differences, on almost the same visual plane—this isn't just characters in a film watching a film. The images seen on the screen, from Joseph H. Lewis's Gun Crazy , occur as an inverse background, a sort of subtitle or translation, to the film Breathless —Lewis's characters are speaking of the high stakes in their relationship as Jesse and Monica begin to make love in the moments after a close escape from the police. But that effect is inverted again when Jesse and Monica in turn inscribe themselves within the film they are watching, back to front, especially by means of Monica's quoting of the woman within it. She repeats the words we have just heard from Gun Crazy —"I don't want to be afraid of life or anything else"—to which Jesse replies, "You don't have to be afraid of nothing."

What the quotation has set up here is something quite different from a repetition, a transposition of words from one mouth to another. It is rather a recontextualization radical enough to amount to a reversal, an inversion, according to what I shall call, for reasons that the rest of what I have to say will explain, a logic of the chiasmus.[5] It reoccurs quite clearly at the end of Breathless . After Monica returns to inform Jesse she has denounced him to the police, she tells him to leave so as not to be apprehended. He wants to stay, because he loves her, and believes her to love him. "Do you love me?" he asks, then demands that she reply: "Say it!" When she doesn't, he turns the logic around and at the same time demands that she quote him: "Say you don't love me and then I'll go." She replies and quotes him: "I don't love you," but unconvincingly enough for it to be read by Jesse as meaning the opposite: "Liar!" he declares, and deciding that she loves him, rushes off to pick up the money from Berrutti and return to flee or be with her. Thus the translations and quotations run to and fro within the structure of iterability to the extent that the repetitions become inversions, contresens . Something similar happens in A bout de souffle as Patricia reverses the position of the adjective in the name of the street, Rue Campagne Première , when she denounces Michel, making the correct linguistic assump-


tion that "premier" as adjective precedes the noun, occurring in the weak position, whereas in this case it follows. Her error works as a corollary to her attempts to fathom the logic of her feelings for him, with her finally settling on the inverted formula of "Since I am mean to you I am not in love with you."

Once iterability or the remarking effect comes into play, and it does so from the beginning and never stops doing so, then any translation or transposition—that which occurs in and from the beginning as much as that occurring in the case of a remake—involves the sorts of cross-purposes just outlined. Translation necessarily occurs as a chiasmus between the homogeneity of a single sense and the heterogeneity of a divided sense: like the homogeneity of a self-evident image and the heterogeneity of that same image crossed over and crossed out by things supposedly foreign to it. There can never be a faithful remake, and not just because Hollywood demands compromises or because things get lost in translation or mistakes occur, but because there can never be a simple original uncomplicated by the structure of the remake, by such effects of self-division.

In the final analysis it no longer comes down to a question of what Breathless tries, or doesn't try to do with A bout de souffle , or even what it does or doesn't do with it. Thus in returning to the final and perhaps most important divergence between the two films, Breathless' choice of a musical subtext over the French film's use of cinema, Jerry Lee Lewis instead of Bogart, I wish above all to emphasize once more the idea of chiastic self-division that renders the American film irretrievably different from the French one, and that, paradoxically, in spite of any attempts by Hollywood to produce a more domesticated version of Godard, renders it irretrievably different from itself and eminently Godardian. On one level it comes down to the impressive work of Jack Nitzsche on the sound track and his association of a Philip Glass theme with the female character as a counterpoint to Jerry Lee Lewis for Jesse. But I doubt whether the title of that theme, "Openings," from Glassworks had anything to do with his choice. However it is by means of the musical openings produced on the sound track that McBride's Breathless breaks with Hollywood in favor of something more like Godard at the same time that it comes together as a film.

Although Godard's use of sound always recognized its force as an otherness "within" the visual field of film, in some of the films that marked his return to commercial cinema in the early eighties, contemporaneous with Breathless , the work on sound became concentrated in terms of music. That was so for Sauve qui peut (la vie ) (1979 [Every Man for Himself ]) and more explicitly for Prénom Carmen (1983 [First Name Carmen ]).[6] The effect is to seriously disrupt the distinctions between layers of the sound track on the one hand, and sound and image tracks on the other hand. A version of the same thing occurs with the sound track at the end of Breathless . The French


ending that has Michel shot in the back by the police and running for his life but to his death at the end of the Rue Campagne Première is replaced by a Jesse pausing over a gun on the ground, being urged not to pick it up by a frantic Monica and by the police who have their guns trained on him. He suddenly turns to face the police and breaks into a mimed rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless." The sound track music, which during this scene has used an increasingly syrupy strings rendition of Glass's minimalist piano piece "Openings," is interrupted by the beat and melody of the Lewis song; then the two compete in a melodic and rhythmic crisscross as Jesse's mime veers into a sort of expressionistic limbo. The Lewis song reasserts itself with Jesse facing Monica and singing the word from its title and the title of the film before stooping to pick up the gun and again face the police and his death.

By foregrounding the music in this way, Breathless goes beyond the self-consciousness of Jesse's worship and imitation of Jerry Lee Lewis and in a very Godardian fashion brings the music track from its offscreen position into the narrative and onto the screen. Conversely, the visual track is crossed by the sound track and the narrative is frozen in a ghostly mime. Whereas the Glass theme has been used as a pensive "feminine" contrast to the impulsive and macho Lewis songs, presumed to be never more than background, here the counterpoint suddenly takes itself literally, leading to the chiastic effect of this climax. If one wanted, one could read in the word "counterpoint" precisely such a musical and graphic chiasmus by translating it or transposing it as follows: the word "point" would come to be the musical or rhythmic equivalent of the word "trait," privileged by Derrida (1980, 1987) to express the heterogeneity of the line (the French word trait means both brushstroke and stroke of the pen), the divisibility of the pictorial by the graphic and vice versa. "Point" would then mean both "dot" and "beat," and "counterpoint" would express the crossing of one by the other. The counterpoint of Glass's "Openings" would then become the punctuating effect of music upon the narrative and visuals in general that occurs as that piece struggles against the beat of Jerry Lee Lewis in the final shots. It would be like the rudimentary writing effect that is the dot inserting itself as foreign otherness on the screen and on the film. As a result the film is frozen in a composition—the climactic halting of the narrative flow—that is also a transposition or translation: the crossing of the two musical themes and their imposition upon that narrative. The final sequence of Breathless thus works as an opening onto a cinematic process—an opening of the film onto itself and a crossing of the film by itself, a remaking of the marks of cinema—that can be read as far more radical than anything in A bout de souffle .

The story of the remaking of Godard's groundbreaking New Wave film is not finally about how faithful the American copy manages to be or how


original it manages to be, two paradoxical qualities requested or required of a remake. It is rather about how any film, from the explicitly Brechtian to the most seamless Hollywood product, works as a quotation of itself, the repetition or rehearsing of its own differences. The story of A bout de souffle , carried over to Breathless is, after all, about a problem with a check, a check that can't be cashed, a written promise that can't be immediately fulfilled in the form of hard currency. It is therefore about a problem with different media within a system of exchange, like the visual and audio media of cinema, and also a problem with signatures. The problem Michel faces is that although the check is made out to him, it is crossed, made nonnegotiable, requiring it to be processed through the institutional rigors of a bank account. It has lines drawn or written across it and needs more writing and stamping on the back before it can be of any use to him. It is also crossed in the sense suggested by the French word barré , meaning blocked, immobilized. In the American Breathless the problem is similar, although it is the check itself, as written monetary form—or written monetary form different from cash, since there is no nonwritten form—that holds Jesse up and allows the police to close in on him. Either way, the check requires some form of endorsement, a structure that can be called—especially since this is a check that travels to a foreign land, like a traveler's check—that of the countersignature. But, as Derrida (1982, 1984) has shown, what the countersignature does in reaffirming the authenticity of the original signature is subvert that very authenticity by showing the presumed singular and idiosyncratic event of the signature—what makes it mine and the written code for my proper name—to be repeatable and thus subject to the same decontextualizations, in this case especially forgery, as any sign or line. The countersignature is a repetition of the same that ushers in the structure of difference; it is a quotation of the original that is a translation and transposition of it.

The American film Breathless might be read as an attempt to cash in on the credit established by Godard's film, to cash it and at the same time process it through the Hollywood institution, an institution concerned with nothing more than what is bankable. But the check stays crossed, the film remains written, for it cannot be otherwise. On the other side, once it has crossed the Atlantic, in spite of the translations and inversions, there are more crossings, there is more writing. Whichever film one reads first, whichever version is taken to be the original, the heterogeneities of cinema continue to cross both ways; the countersignature divides itself in a play of writing. A bout de souffle, "Breathless" the subtitled version, Breathless the American version, and "Breathless" the song by Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as all the versions that I have quoted in writing about it here, are caught up like so many stolen cars, in such a complicated interchange, something of the shape of which this article has sought to outline.


Works Cited

Brunette, Peter, and David Wills. Screen/Play: Derrida and Film Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Derrida, Jacques. "The Law of Genre." In Glyph 7 , 202–29. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

———. "Living On / Borderlines." In Deconstruction and Criticism , edited by Harold Bloom et al., 75–176. New York: Seabury Press, 1979.

———. Signsponge/Signéponge. Translated by Richard Rand. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

———. The Truth in Painting. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Falkenberg, Pamela. "'Hollywood' and the "Art Cinema' as a Bipolar Modeling System: A bout de souffle and Breathless." Wide Angle 7 , no. 3 (1985): 44–53.

McBride, Jim. "Sortie des Marges: entretien avec Jim McBride." Cahiers du cinéma 350 (1983): 31–34, 64–66.


Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire. "The Graphic in Filmic Writing: A bout de souffle, or the Erratic Alphabet." Enclitic 5, no. 2; 6, no. 1 (1981–82), 147–61.

Wills, David. "Carmen: Sound/Effect." Cinema Journal 25, no. 4 (1986): 33–43.

———. "Representing Silence (in Godard)." In Essays in Honour of Keith Val Sinclair, edited by Bruce Merry, 180–92 Townsville: James Cook University, 1991.


The Spring, Defiled:
Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring and Wes Craven's Last House on the Left

Michael Brashinsky

Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differences and traces of traces.
Jacques Derrida, "Positions"

In 1972, Cries and Whispers, Ingmar Bergman's thirty-fourth film, was released to universal acclaim, followed by a foreign-language Academy Award. The same year, Wes Craven, a neophyte, made The Last House on the Left, a picture that even today, after the near disappearance of drive-ins, can be found in selected video stores only under the category "Drive-In Horror." If merely for this utter coincidence, the two names would never meet on the same page of film history. But they do, for, incredibly, The Last House on the Left is a remake of The Virgin Spring, a film Bergman had made thirteen years earlier.

This fact, while widely publicized in film literature from Gerald Mast's Short History of the Movies[1] to popular video guides,[2] goes unannounced in The Last House on the Left . Instead the legend reads, "The events you are about to witness are true. Names and locations have been changed to protect those individuals still living."

Why deceive us? Or is it really a deception? In the realm of doubling visions and mutating images, which is precisely what the culture that favors the remake should be, the question, Why wouldn't a filmmaker admit to remaking a classic? could be only another way of phrasing the questions, Why remake classics at all? and What is the remake?

The remake is not a genre, nor is it a kind of film. It is neither a newly filmed old script nor a new script based on an old one. It is nothing but a film based on another film that is itself a system of narrative and cinematic properties.

As such, the remake can be seen among aesthetic expressions built on reinterpretation and engaged in a "trialogue" with nature and a culture


other than their own. But unlike the stage production of a play or the film adaptation of a literary work, the remake interprets the work of the same medium and thus bares its own secondariness.[3] It skips the act of meta-aesthetic transition in which, according to the widely accepted modernist prejudice, originality begins. This, of course, is what the remake should be praised rather than blamed for. It provides us with countless clues to the medium, the culture, and ourselves that would be eclipsed by the study of what the original material has gained or lost in passage from one medium to another.

Indeed, Hamlet and Medea would not be classics had they not offered a vast scope of options for interpretation. We have seen Hamlet-poets and Hamlet-impotents, Hamlet-soldiers and Hamlet-nerds, Hamlet-rebels and Hamlet-fascists. In Shakespeare's play, theater sees a literary "empty space" (to use Peter Brook's famous formula) to be filled with a new theatrical content, and the magic of this space is that its shape, size, and texture seldom say no to new meanings. But plays are intended to be reinterpreted on stage. Films are not made to serve as sources for other films, just as books are not written to be rewritten, unless by Pierre Menard, the father of all remakes, who resolved to compose Don Quixote —not just "another Don Quixote, " but "the Don Quixote "—as if it had never been done before.

The gap between the worlds of the remake and other aesthetic translations is not as technological as it is cultural. Stage and screen adaptation existed from the beginning of their respective arts. The remake has become the most explicit gesture of a culture that finds its psyche in the Other and cannot express itself through anything but a quote. In this culture's tired eyes, life does not imitate art—art has replaced life. Michelangelo and Fellini, Bach and Picasso are there, just as the air and the trees, and there is no pretending otherwise. Trying to avoid Oedipus when telling a story of a man who tried to avoid his fate would be as senseless today as setting up a camera in a bathroom and dismissing Hitchcock's eye in the drain. Culture, that Ortega y Gasset's window separating an artist from the garden, has become a garden of its own, and its flora, all those fleurs du mal, leaves of grass, and rose tattoos beat the natural vegetation. Similarly, The Virgin Spring is as "real" for the postmodern imagination as any other spring, and Wes Craven is as telling as he is teasing when he suggests that his film is based on "a true story."

This story is not true, and not only because it is too implausible and contrived to seem real. The Last House on the Left is in fact an uncredited remake ("a rip-off," according to Leonard Maltin[4] ) of The Virgin Spring, and the first evidence it offers to us is, clearly, the narrative.

Stripped of all imagery and magic down to an austere plot, the Last House narrative is, in fact, closer to its source than those of such admitted remakes as Scarface (1932, 1983), Cat People (1942, 1982) and The Fly (1958, 1986).


In both films, an innocent teenage girl, the only child of loving parents, leaves home for a weekend excursion, accompanied by a shrewd confidante. On the road, she is brutally raped and murdered by a gang of criminals. (In The Last House on the Left, the girlfriend is similarly attacked and killed, providing one of the few notable deviations from the original). Fleeing the scene of the crime, the killers stumble upon their victim's home and stay overnight (a coincidence equally unmotivated in both scenarios) only to meet a merciless retribution from the girl's father.

If this is a story of crime and punishment, then neither film is about its story. Nor is it about the young, the girls on whom each picture centers briefly only to liquidate them and move on. Here the narrative parallels between films end.

As if it were a western, the black-and-white Virgin Spring is ruled by dichotomy. It juxtaposes the virgin, Catholic, and blonde Karin, who is killed on her way to mass, with the pregnant, pagan, and brunette Ingeri, who survives to lament and possibly to convert. Preoccupied with moral (and other) dilemmas, Bergman gives his pain and lens to the father, who is played by the then-thirty-year-old Max von Sydow as an ascetic warrior undergoing a tremendous internal turmoil. He is torn between the pagan God he has renounced and the Christian God he does not understand. The killers are godless, but so is the father's eye-for-an-eye revenge. A hero of a classical tragedy, seen through a prism of modern culture—Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Camus—he kills because the God he has chosen has not only left him but has also left him no choice. Ultimately, The Virgin Spring becomes a story of a shattered faith redeemed in repentance.

In The Last House on the Left, Dr. Collingwood, played by the unforgettably bland Gaylord St. James, is all but faceless compared to his "paternal" model. He also takes over the initiative in the end, yet not because his self is tragically conflicted but because it is his turn to be violent. Violence in Wes Craven's films is the measure of all things; it is the last "means of communication" left for his characters to respond to the cruelty of the others and the world.[5] Rape and murder and then revenge—these climactic eruptions of violence, so crumpled and clumsy in The Virgin Spring that the attackers and not the victims seem to be suffering from the mess—are what The Last House on the Left dwells on. Not off to the church and not "after the rainbow," as the song on the sound track suggests—the girl is after a rock band called "Blood Lust," and the film insinuates that the director made it to the concert while his heroine didn't. Unlike moralist Bergman, for whom any savagery is senseless, the post-Vietnam "immoralist" Craven provides the world's violence with a cause as appalling as its absence in The Virgin Spring: "We're gonna have some fun," promises the Mansonesque killer before he rapes. Conversely, where Bergman takes great pains to establish motives for the father's revenge, Craven throws his doctor into a


whirlpool of unwarranted cruelty and gives him a hand only when it comes to choosing a weapon simply because there is nothing else left for him to do.

Just as The Virgin Spring was a tale of faith, The Last House on the Left becomes a tale of havoc. Order returns at the end of The Virgin Spring; it never does at the end of The Last House . But isn't it the incentive of every remake to tell the same story with a different meaning?

The otherness of the meaning, of course, is visible only to the informed. Clearly, one must be familiar with the original to understand what the remake alludes, or bids adieu, to. Like one of those tricky airport billboards that reads "Welcome" or "Have a Good Flight," depending on the passenger's direction, the remake says one thing when read as an original work and another when seen in retrospect, through the lens of its source.

The Last House is as full of hidden (and not so hidden), playful (and straight-faced) allusions to its prototype as its landscape is full of springs. Just like the coquettish blonde Karin, who insisted on the white Sunday dress that was a bit too immodest for a medieval Swedish maid, the coquettish blonde Mary Collingwood argues with her parents about clothing. She puts on an outfit to which her father remarks, "What, no bra?! You can see nipples!" propelling a lengthy discussion on "tits." Later, the delinquent kid—or "little toad," as his fugitive parent refers to him—says he wants to be a frog. The character does not mean what Wes Craven does: in The Virgin Spring, a toad, squashed by the ill-natured Ingeri into a loaf of bread, is found by the boy. Having latently recognized himself in the amphibian, the urchin repents, just as his offspring in 1972 will. Neither one lives to see the end of his film.[6]

Here, at the stage of narrative interaction, many remakes would stop. But what would do in the screenwriter's heaven of Hollywood mainstream, where remaking a film is often synonymous to retelling the story, was not good enough for Wes Craven, a pioneer of rediscovery and a rebel with a cause to dare the guru of European film auteur.

If The Virgin Spring were a tapestry it would be made of canvas, the coarseness of which would only be highlighted by its artist's translucent style. Canvas and wood are two basic materials this universe is made of. Fire and water are two elements that combat one another here for man's soul. Sven Nykvist's camera, solemnly frontal, creates an image as pure and minimalist as the world it depicts. This world does not know any middle ground, just as its inhabitants are unaware of compromise. If it's raining here, watch for the Deluge; if it's hurting, await a bloodshed. In this world, the woods are teeming with ravens and goblins. The ravens caw; the goblins see "three dead men riding north"; both prophesy ill. Everything is an omen here,



Figure 20.
One of the most startling film rituals ever: we see the father's sacred cleansing
before the sacrificial killing. Max von Sydow and Brigitta Pettersson star
in Ingmar Bergman's  The Virgin Spring .

and nature speaks to man. Pagan Ingeri begs Karin to turn back, for "the forest is so black." Karin doesn't listen, and pays for it.

There is nothing this world values more than a ritual. A film whose legendary time spans from dawn to dawn, The Virgin Spring begins with Ingeri starting a fire while conjuring up the god Odin and ends with the father's invocation of the Lord. In between, there is one of the most startling film rituals ever: the father's sacred cleansing bath before the sacrificial killing. (See figure 20.) The father wants to be Christian, and this world—pagan, primitive, fossil—does not make it easy for him. Another word for this world would be mythic, which seems to entirely match with Bergman's conception, inspired, according to the opening credit, by the fourteenth-century Swedish legend. In the realm of myth, all dimensions of The Virgin Spring —thematic and formal—coincide and intersect in an ultimately tuneful order.

The remake's bond with cultural mythology is as solid as it is basic. What a serious, conscious remaker sees in the source film is an individual expression of the myth to be remade. From the narrative, through the filmic prop-


erties, to the underlying cultural myth lies the trajectory of any remake that is of interest to thinkers and not just to financiers.

Of course, there are myths, and then, there are myths. The kind of myth-making in which the remake is involved is "low" and popular, not "high" and classical. But what is the difference? What is the difference between Orestes and James Bond? Both are great spokesmen for their times. Both are serial heroes. Neither can breathe outside the genre structure.[7]

There was nothing that popular culture, this spoiled and prodigal offspring of romanticism, would seize more eagerly from its classical parent than the notion of genre: genre as a formula and genre as a model channel, or conductor, for myth. The convenient beauty of the genre is that its formulaic and mythical qualities are not discrepant. Genre in fact does in culture what no individual genius could: it formulates myths.

This is why most remakes are genre films. The self-conscious, referential culture of the remake, constantly in search of codes, finds a dual code in the genre film to make over: the code of the individual source and the code of its genre. (Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear, for example, was not only a remake of J. Lee Thompson's picture but also of the thriller formula as a whole.) Even more significantly, genres do for remakers what sieves did for gold miners: they sort and retain, they distill the myths of the time.

When the myth of a genre (the frontier naïveté of the western, or the apocalyptic dread of the disaster film) does not match the myth of the time, the genre fades away. For the same reason some ideally formulaic genre offerings fade away untapped by remakers (the western in the 1980s, the "invasion film" after the end of the cold war).

But if the secret of a successful remake is chiefly in finding a perfect match between the genre and the epoch (which is true about many remakes, all based on genre films), this secret was of no use for Wes Craven in remaking The Virgin Spring, a film without a genre. Yet Craven, a director dressed to head the A list of B moviemaking, knew perfectly well what he was doing when he picked one of the most mythical films ever as his prototype. He found exactly what he wanted: a different kind of myth, a modernist myth, unscratched by popular culture. In Bergman's pure, distilled, and culturally virgin myth, Craven had a perfect spring to defile.

What in 1959 was the fourteenth century, becomes 1972 in 1972. And what in fourteenth-century Sweden was primeval forest, the realm of basic elements and instincts, in 1972 becomes an American suburb. (See figure 21.) Typically peaceful and sweet, typically boring and dull, typically middle class, it is decorated with integrally standard facades (on the outside) and requisitely moderate "abstract" prints (on the inside). Here, what looks like wood is actually Formica; what could be canvas is really nylon.

Yet Craven does not reduce the poetry of myth to mythless prose. Rather,



Figure 21.
The fourteenth-century prieval forest (The Virgin Spring,  1959) has
became an American suburb (The Last House on the Left,  1972)
in Wes Craven's remake of Bergman.

he embarks on a dimension no less mythological than Bergman's, but with different kinds of myths.

Suburbia, the citadel of normality in American culture, is where the myth of family values found refuge from society's nervous breakdown. An isolationist haven (ours is the last house on the left, which also could be the first house on the-right ), the suburb is a mutation of urban and rural mythologies. Neither city nor country, it appropriates (in the collective subconscious of its inhabitants) the best and the safest of both.

Never a paradise, but always a target, the suburb is a perfect setting for the bizarre, more so against the backdrop of nauseating and often fake familial serenity. In the 1950s, the suburb was the most sacred site that the rootless body snatchers could possibly invade; its invasion, therefore, was the scariest. In the early 1980s, the suburb, an ideal metaphor for neocon-servatist mentality, returned as a favorite location for science fiction and horror films, a scene most appropriate for the invasion of alien (Steven Spielberg's E.T. [1982]) or supernatural (Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist [1982]) forces. A few years later, David Lynch, the poet of provincial void, romanticized suburban evil by demolishing the suburban myth in Blue Velvet (1986).

The Last House on the Left, with a rock sound track that sounds as if it were


borrowed from Easy Rider (1969), is one of the first ventures into the renovated, postradical myth of the 1970s. It is also one of the first reactions to the defeat of the 1960s, coming from inside the generation that lost. A film with plenty of violence, it is also a film without suspense. It is not meant to frighten us or in any way involve us emotionally—something suspense cannot do without. A surgeon rather than a lyricist, Craven, who will return to suburbia in the more baroque but less personal Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), gives us nobody to identify with and maintains his own distance. What he sees is a society that has fallen asleep (or was put to sleep), a desensitized society to which Philip Kaufman in 1978 will find a perfect metaphor in the 1950s' Invasion of the Body Snatchers . This society is crushed here by the hippielike killers and, even more so, by its own chain-saw defense. That this chain saw belongs to another story and a different, "antisuburban" myth is precisely what Last House on the Left is about.

Hitchcock was only kidding when he began Psycho with a tale of theft that led nowhere. Craven's play is less elegant but more candid. In the opening, he also promises a different kind of movie, a "sweet sixteen" melodrama, with a fruity birthday cake, cute neighbors, and the indispensable generation gap, expressed in conflicting approaches to brassieres. These promises are as vain as they are essential for suburban utopia, absurdly solid and solidly absurd.

The wishful destruction crushes this sleepy world with a savage energy that makes Bergman's violence look like figure skating, just as Craven's handheld camera and jerky editing make Bergman's frontal grandeur look like an old master's frescos. When Mary's mother, a housewife with facial features all but washed out, bites off the assailant's penis, there can be no mistake: something went awry in this world. When Mary's father, who looks like the Reverend Billy Graham, splatters the rapist's brains all over his tacky furniture we know sweet suburbia is no more. Violent frenzy has invaded the myth of normality as it took over intellect in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971). Similarly, George Romero's crazed zombies snatched the bodies of loyal citizens.

In 1959, Ingmar Bergman made a film about a tragedy that inevitably accompanies the shift of mythologies, the passage of cultures. So, in 1972, did Wes Craven. Only his is a kind of tragedy that could be written not by Shakespeare but by Shakespeare's Fool: ruthlessly cynical and painfully funny.

As a postmodern artist has no other way to "interview" reality but through an interpreter of another culture, it is hard to imagine a remake made within the same cultural tier as the original. The cultures must vary, either in time, as is the case in The Thing (1951, 1982), The Fly (1958, 1986), Cape Fear (1962, 1992), and most other notable remakes, or in space, as it hap-


pens between Yojimbo (1961, Japan) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Italy), Seven Samurai (1954, Japan), The Magnificent Seven (1960, USA), and even George Cukor's Adam's Rib (1949, USA) and its Bulgarian remake (1956), and Rambo's First Blood (1982) and the Russian response to it, currently in production, in which an Afghan war vet comes out of his drunken oblivion to fight the evil of the world.[8] In any case, the remake remains a metacultural medium that has to cross borders, temporal or spatial, in order to connect.

The Last House on the Left at least tripled the shift. It switched from the 1950s to the 1970s, from European to American sensibility and, last but not least, from a militant, genreless auteurism to an excessively personal style of a B slasher movie before the genre went mainstream. Wes Craven's film met its prototype and interlocutor on the terrain of myth and proved that only mythless times will not be remade. If only one could imagine times like that. And if only one could believe that times like that deserved a remake.

Cinematic Makeovers and Cultural Border Crossings:
Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies and Coppola's Godfather and Godfather II

Andrew Horton

I think that the concept of border suggests something very subversive and unsettling. . . . [I]t means recognizing the multiple nature of our own identities.
Henry A. Giroux, Disturbing Pleasures

Dedicated to Gypsies, filmakers, and border crossers everywhere.

"Yes, this is a Gypsy Godfather, " wrote the Time reviewer Richard Corliss in 1990 when Time of the Gypsies, by the Bosnian-born Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica, was released in the United States after it won for him the Best Director award from the Cannes International Film Festival the previous year.

The reference to Coppola's 1972 hugely successful Mafia family epic based on the Mario Puzo novel and screenplay is more than an American critic's effort to interest a home audience in a quality foreign film. For Kusturica's gypsy tale, based on actual newspaper stories, turns out to be not only a transfixing glimpse at a "parade of ethnic eccentricity" (Hinson), but a hymn to world cinema at a time when television has become the more dominant form of presenting moving images. Finally, this Balkan recasting of Coppola's Godfather and Godfather II (it was made before Godfather III appeared) also manages to go beyond such intertextuality and international border crossings to emerge as a "Yugoslav" text reflective of the cinema of that troubled country that tragically no longer exists in any discernible form. In this essay I use Kusturica's captivating film as a case study in a larger consideration of cinematic remakes viewed from the triple perspective mentioned above: how a film from a non-English-speaking, third world country may drastically remake a Hollywood film (films in this case), how


such a film can also allude to the cinemas of other nations and thus in some way announce itself as a member of the discourse of "world cinema" while maintaining its own cultural integrity as, in part, seen by its allusions to the cinema of its own nation. Not all elements of such a complex case of border crossing, as cultural-cinema critics such as Henry A. Giroux have explored the term, can be thoroughly illustrated in such a short piece as this. But it is my hope that this essay furthers cross-cultural cinematic studies.

Rather than remake The Godfather in any overt sense, however, Kusturica, a Bosnian filmmaker from Sarajevo, has made over Coppola's work to reflect Kusturica's own personal and cultural (Yugoslav) interests. In fact, Kusturica has often used The Godfather more to point to contrasts than parallels, culturally and cinematically.

Most attention paid to cinematic remakes involves Hollywood films, which we can consider either from the purely capitalistic urge of the industry to make more profit on a proven product or, as Leo Braudy has suggested in his remarks in this collection, the larger view of movie remakes as metaphorically reflecting "the history and culture of this self-made and self-remade country" (330). But I wish to look into that area of cinematic remakes, mentioned above, that has received little critical scrutiny: what I call the cross-cultural makeover. If Hollywood is indeed the acknowledged dominant cinema in the world, the ways in which minority cultures appropriate and make use of that dominant discourse can prove instructive for both narrative film studies and cultural studies. Taken all together, this investigation should reinforce Victor Shklovsky's keen observation that "[i]n the history of art, the legacy is transmitted not from father to son, but from uncle to nephew" (49).

Narrative in any form is, as Edward Branigan reminds us, "[o]ne of the most important ways we perceive our environment" (1). But, as he also notes, narrative depends on building story structures "based on stories already told." In Branigan's useful analysis, narrative is studied both for the process of generating stories and for the act of comprehension. In either case there is the need for a level of experience that recognizes patterns of storytelling and thus the sense of a backlog of "stories already told" that are shared by storytellers (authors, filmmakers) and audiences. In most cases, of course, recognized patterns do not suggest a direct adaptation of a set tale but rather a range of similarities. In such a manner, we could, for instance, identify one kind of story "already told" as belonging to a "coming of age" pattern. As Branigan notes, "'[M]eaning' is said to exist when pattern is achieved" (14).

We recognize the remake as a more intensified and self-conscious form of the narrative process described by Branigan. Within the territory of the remake, "meaning" involves the knowledge of specific texts, not only for their patterns but for their characterization, tone, texture, and point of


view. Even more so than other forms of narrative, the remake announces itself as negotiating a self-conscious balancing act between the familiar and the new or the familiar "transformed."

Finally, what I will term the "makeover" is a particular form of remake that purposely sets out to make significant changes in what is either acknowledged or perceived as a prototype or important precursor to the film in question. Seymour Chatman has distinguished between overt and covert narration depending on the "degrees of audibility" of narrators (196). This distinction can also be applied to remakes. Films that clearly announce themselves as remakes in one or multiple ways are "overt" recastings, while the makeover is constructed to be more covert (by varying degree) in its audibility for the viewing audience. Makeover as a term will help us to emphasize the characteristics and strategies, overt and covert, of difference that the film in question presents in terms of previous texts while also noting possible levels of connection, similarity, continuity beyond various borders, geographic, intellectual, imaginative, and cinematic. Jean Renoir was fond of saying that he was not able to become a filmmaker until he realized his love for von Stroheim, Chaplin, Griffith, and Keaton had to be transformed into his own French "language," cinematic and linguistic, since he was, after all, French (Durgnat, 9).

Making over Narrative:
Family Business

At the core of the fabula, or story, of both Godfather films is what Coppola's characters call the twin peaks of their lives: the personal ("family") and "business." Building on Puzo's novel, Coppola managed to infuse the Hollywood gangster genre with a richly textured double dose of the Italian American immigrant experience in the United States and the importance of family life to that experience. As Peter Cowie has observed about the first part of the trilogy, "[T]he film is really a paean, not so much to the Mafia as to the pioneer spirit that enabled generations of Italians to sail to the USA, settle, and establish a new caste of ironclad proportions" (53). (See figure 22.)

Note to what degree Coppola's two films exist not as prototypes for Time of the Gypsies but as complex examples of stories "based on stories already told." On the most immediate level, The Godfather is an adaptation of the novel with the added connection that the script was written by the novel's author. And Godfather II thus appeared as a sequel. A further exploration, however, would have to discuss Coppola and Puzo's "rewriting" of the cinematic genre of the crime film. It is just as important to our understanding of Coppola's films to know what kind of border crossing Coppola has done between the various films that make up the genre of previous mob-crime



Figure 22.
The godfather, Marlon Brando (with Al Pacino), takes the role of
the gangster patriarch far beyond the genre stereotypes
of the past in The Godfather  (1972).

films as it is to study the process of adaptation from Puzo's written page to Coppola's moving images. Noting such a complexity in speaking about Hollywood cinema, Raymond Bellour has observed that "in the classic American cinema, meaning is constituted by a correspondence in the balances achieved. . . . Multiple in both nature and extension, these cannot be reduced to any truly unitary structure or semantic relationship" (99).

Acknowledging such a pluralistic state of balances and meanings within



Figure 23.
A Balkan family portrait: Perhan (Davar Dujmovic), far right, standing
next to his beloved grandmother (Ljubica Adzovic), is the young Gypsy
who later becomes a gypsy Mafia member in Emir Kusturica's  Time of the
 (1989), a makeover of Francis Ford Coppola's  The Godfather .

Coppola's texts as, to one degree or another, makeovers of previous crime films as well as adaptations of a novel, we can now turn to Time of the Gypsies and the even more complex nature of the makeover.

Kusturica's saga follows a similar story-subject perspective—that of business and family. Time of the Gypsies is an epic chronicle of a young Serbian gypsy, Perhan (Davor Dujmovic), from awkward adolescence through puberty, young love, travel, involvement in a godfather-controlled crime network in Italy, and on to his eventual marriage, fatherhood, godfatherhood, downfall, and death.[1] (See figure 23.) Perhan's struggle, like that of The Godfather 's Michael Corleone, is between his strong sense and need of family and the pressures on him to go into the "business," in this case a crime empire dedicated to selling gypsy babies and exploiting cripples, dwarfs, and women (via prostitution) across the border in Italy (all based on true accounts of over thirty thousand gypsy children "sold" into such slavery by their parents and other relatives, a practice that has not ended). Beyond these plot and thematic similarities to the Coppola films, the differences mushroom in the fertile soil suggested by The Godfather and Godfather II .


For our purposes, I shall focus on both the cinematic (including narrative) and cultural differences that Kusturica's text evokes, with the addition of an extra observation: Part of the pleasure of Coppola's trilogy is that of watching the high level of professional acting, in many cases by actors such as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, who began their film careers with impressive stage backgrounds. Kusturica, in contrast, has gone in absolutely the opposite direction, using predominately nonprofessional gypsies to play themselves, though the roles of Perhan and Ahmed especially are played by well-known actors.

If we embrace the totality of difference served us by Kusturica and his screenwriter Goran Mihic,[2] we could describe the fabula-plot of this Balkan makeover in the following way: Time of the Gypsies is a dramatic-comic tale told with both realism and dreamlike fantasy, full of cinematic references, concerning an Eastern Orthodox Serbian orphan gypsy with certain telekinetic powers who is raised within a matriarchal culture by his grandmother. He becomes a gypsy godfather but ultimately fails to mature due to the lack of a proper father figure. He finally tries to resolve his personal crises by murdering his adopted "godfather"-father and is in turn murdered by the godfather's latest bride. His dying expression, however, is not one of pain but is instead a satisfied smile as he sees a vision floating above him suggesting his dead mother, wife, and beloved pet turkey. Rather than a sense of loss, Perhan's death has brought him a deeper peace and seeming understanding. On a deeply spiritual level, he has been fulfilled.

Let us now explore more closely the nature and implications of Kusturica's makeover, beginning with the level of the cinematic border crossing.

Making over Coppola's Godfathers

Gothic Realism vs Magic Realism

Coppola's style in the trilogy might be termed "gothic realism"—a blending of realistically based scenes shot in deep expressionistic tones and shades, with no flights of fantasy or dreams within the narrative. In strong contrast, Kusturica's film is, as I shall discuss more fully, dream oriented. Perhan's trickster figure Uncle Merdzan tells him at one point, "I see life as a mirage," and so do we for two hours as Kusturica treats us to frequent dream sequences and fantasy-like realities heavily influenced, according to Kusturica, by Gabriel García Márquez and the South American tradition of "magic realism."

The impermanence of gypsy life is more than one of physical mobility: it is a condition of the spirit, a perception of the universe, which Kusturica captures in his overall style and approach to his narrative. The gypsies, he told a New York Times interviewer, "move . . . easily from reality to illusion to


dream, as in a Gabriel García Márquez novel. Time of the Gypsies belongs entirely to the world of García Márquez and other Latin American writers who built their art on the irrationality and poverty of their people" (Insdorf). Thus, while a study of Coppola's films should, as we have noted earlier, incorporate a stylistic and narrative study of the American crime film genre, Kusturica's film could also be fruitfully studied in relation to the tradition of literary magic realism, suggesting once more the plurality of meanings Bellour alludes to in "reading" films.

Cinematic Tone:
The Tragic vs the Joyfully Comic

Coppola's vision, especially when taking the trilogy as a whole, is one of tragedy, of loss, of a falling apart as he himself has commented (Goodwin, 161–93). Kusturica's gypsy epic is one of what he calls "joy," a term that embraces "happiness and sorrow." This double vision is particularly reflected in the Charlie Chaplin motif worked throughout the film, including the final image of Uncle Merdzan, who has consciously acted out Chaplin for the amusement of the family earlier. We see him leave Perhan's funeral and run off through mud, wind, rain, his back to the camera, coat clutched, a cane in hand à la Chaplin. One could argue that Chaplin's solo endings in his films actually push us finally into melodrama rather than the comic. But the memories we have of Chaplin and of Kusturica's work is one tinged more with the comic than the tragic, though we are aware in both cases that the comic embraces pathos as well as laughter (Horton, Comedy/Cinema/Theory , 5).

Kusturica's Salute to World Cinema in an Age of Television

Coppola's Godfather films build on the whole American tradition of crime genre films. But Kusturica cuts a much larger territory of cinematic border crossing with direct and indirect references to over forty directors, ranging from the surrealism of Luis Buñuel to the straightforward, clean, narrative visual style of John Ford. Part of Kusturica's cinematic makeover strategy in Time of the Gypsy results in an anthology of allusions and homage to Yugoslav and European cinema, as well as to classical Hollywood movies. When Perhan becomes a godfather and dons the appropriate looking clothes, he winds up appearing remarkably like Al Pacino. At one moment, he stands in front of a movie theater playing Citizen Kane . As Perhan goes to light his cigar, he sees a still of Orson Welles with an unlit cigar in his mouth. Before lighting his own cigar, Perhan holds the match up to Orson Welles's Havana in a double allusion and tribute to Welles and, we can add, to François Truffaut, who staged a similar Wellesian homage in his first


feature, 400 Blows (1959), as well as in his later hymn to filmmaking itself, Day for Night (1973). Thus, while the overriding nod in The Time of the Gypsies is to Coppola's two films, Kusturica is at pains for us to understand that he is involved in a much larger cinematic world of influences and allusions.

It is significant that two of the most important European films of 1989 concern a double interest in the odyssey of young males trying to come of age and in the presentation of their narratives within a cinematic context that pays homage to, and asks for authentication from, a tradition of world cinema. I am speaking, of course, of Time of the Gypsies and the Italian-French Oscar-winning production of Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso . Like Perhan, the young boy in Cinema Paradiso must grow up without a father. But unlike his gypsy counterpart, the Italian boy has a grandfather figure in the character of a small town movie projectionist played by Philippe Noiret.

Even more striking, however, is the way in which both films embrace through allusions, film clips, and cinematic quotations their respective national film traditions and that of classical Hollywood and world cinema. Of course, in casting a narrative around, and in, a movie theater, Cinema Paradiso allows for a more overt dialogue on cinematic homage and a simultaneous need for authentication. But before discussing particular cinematic influences contained in Kusturica's makeover, we need to understand that both of these European films announce themselves as nontelevision at a time when television has not only supplanted cinema as the major entertainment form but has done so in an age when cinema has, in order to survive, in many ways become television. Kusturica wishes to celebrate particular masters of the cinema and their works—Yugoslav, Hollywood, and European—but he is also necessarily making it clear that he wishes to be authenticated and included in their company, in the family of national (Yugoslav) and world cinema.

The dilemma of world cinema today is well captured by Todd Gitlin when he notes: "More and more, movies themselves have turned into coming attractions—fodder for TV (and radio) morning shows, local and national TV news, syndicated shows like Entertainment Tonight, national magazines from People to Vanity Fair, USA Today and the newspaper style sections, novelizations, comic books, theme song records, toys, T-shirts, and, of course, sequels. The sum of the publicity takes up more cultural space than the movie itself" (15–16). Cinema Paradiso might more aptly be retitled Cinema Nostalgia , and Time of the Gypsies as Time of the Filmmaker as Gypsy . For in every way, Kusturica's film announces itself as a film and not as television. The allusions starting with Coppola and The Godfather are many, but 99 percent are to cinema and not the tube. And they may be called hymns to the movie-going cinema experience as well, for it is more than a sense of narrative closure that requires in Cinema Paradiso the blowing up of the


local cinema (and thus the main character's youth) to build a parking lot: a way of life has gone and the age of video and television has triumphed. Similarly, the very beginnings of love and sexual awakening take place in Kusturica's film as Perhan and Azra watch an important Yugoslav film (Rajko Grlic's The Melody Haunts My Memory [Samo Jednom Se Ljubi , 1980]) in a makeshift open-air cinema and try to imitate the passion on the screen while Perhan's pet turkey looks on.

Thus in our post-postmodern media times, when even American presidential candidates communicate with their audiences via television by mentioning television in the form of shows such as Murphy Brown, The Simpsons , and The Waltons , Kusturica places his Balkan-Hollywood film (produced and released through Columbia Pictures during the closing days of David Puttnam's reign) squarely within a realm of reference that champions the cinematic experience for filmmakers and viewers alike.

Within this context, Kusturica's vision is one that includes both a realist and a surrealist tradition: thus does John Ford meet up with Luis Buñuel within this gypsy cinematic caravan. These extreme borders go beyond individual filmmakers, of course, for to mention Ford and Buñuel is also to embrace the classical Hollywood tradition and the anarchistic European avant-garde at the same time.

Kusturica has often spoken of his love of Ford's films.[3] And there are many scenes in Kusturica's films that share a general set up of straightforward dramatic confrontation with simple camera work reminiscent of Ford's approach. Furthermore, there are direct allusions to Ford's work, as in the closing scene of Kusturica's first feature, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (Sjecas Li Se Dolly Bell? 1981). In the final shot, a Bosnian family is loaded into an open truck with all of its belongings, and they begin to drive toward a new home. The direct reference to The Grapes of Wrath is not just cinematic but thematic as well: the family has suffered but will survive, despite all odds.

There is much in Time of the Gypsies that echoes the playful surrealism of Buñuel. We can sense something of Buñuel's spirit in much of the absurdity that Perhan encounters, in the use of dreams and visions, in the unexpected plot twists and digressions (Buñuel, "Digression Seems to Be," 166), and in an atmosphere of magic realism in which forks fly and whole houses can be pulled from their foundations by a simple pickup truck. Kusturica, like a gypsy, has stolen from everyone, including from his native Bosnian and Yugoslav tradition for folk surrealism and magic realism (Horton, "Oedipus Unresolved," 68–74). Remember, for instance, the appearance of the Virgin Mary a few years ago in the little town of Medjugorje in Bosnia, an appearance that may well owe just as much to folk surrealism as to religion.

At heart, however, there is more of John Ford's style in Kusturica's work


than there is of even Coppola, Buñuel, or any other cinematic father figure. John Ford's darkly humored acceptance of people goes beyond the sense of tragedy, loss, and alienation pictured in Coppola's trilogy. These words of Ford's could easily be Kusturica's: "The situation, the tragic moment, forces men to reveal themselves, and to become aware of what they truly are. The device (a small group of people thrust by chance into a dramatic situation) allows me to discover humor in the midst of tragedy, for tragedy is never wholly tragic. Sometimes tragedy is ridiculous " (Gallagher, 81; italics my own).

Taken together, all of these intertextual, Hollywood, European, and other national cinematic "quotes" strongly suggest that Kusturica wishes his film to be taken as a member of a club that includes not only Hollywood but world cinema itself.

The Yugoslav Film Connection

Coppola managed to stamp a decidedly Italian American mark on one of Hollywood's most popular genres. Kusturica, however, announces himself as both an heir to Yugoslav filmmaking—ironically only a few years before such a label no longer had meaning for a country and an industry deconstructed by strife, war, and rebellion—and also to world cinema. Within this tradition, Kusturica's homages are numerous. For the title and subject matter of the film—gypsies—the filmmaker is indebted to Alexander Petrovic's I Have Even Met Happy Gypsies (1967), the film voted the best Yugoslav film ever by a hundred critics in the 1980s and winner of the Best Film award at Cannes in 1967. Kusturica owes much of his tone and atmosphere—emotional and locational—to Petrovic's pioneering tale of the rough life of Yugoslav gypsies in their ambiguous relationship, at the time, to a communist-socialist state.

Among the twenty or so other Yugoslav films alluded to in The Time of the Gypsies , one feels Kusturica has most clearly nodded to Zivojn Pavlovic's When I Was Dead and White (1967), which was co-written by Kusturica's screenwriter, Goran Mihic. In that film, for instance, the main character is shot to death in an outhouse with his pants down, much as the godfather's assistant is gunned down by Perhan in Gypsies .

There is also Goran Paskalovic's Guardian Angel (1987) which treated the same story as Kusturica's film but two years earlier: the true story (widely reported in the press and on television) of Yugoslav gypsy children being sold into slavery. Also incorporated, directly this time, is Rajko Grlic's The Melody Haunts My Memory , a clip of which is shown in the film (see below). And the use of magic realism to express the reality of those who have died echoes a similar use of the technique in other Yugoslav films, most clearly in Srdjan Karanovic's Petria's Wreath (1980).


All of these Yugoslav film allusions are lost, of course, on viewers not familiar with Yugoslav cinema, which is to say most world viewers. But that is not the point. What is significant is that within the context of world cinema, Kusturica's text suggests how a film can embrace multiple connotations aimed at a variety of audiences. David Bordwell speaks about the "degree of communicativeness" in a film narrative (59) and notes that such a degree can be judged "by considering how willingly the narration shares the information to which its degree of knowledge entitles it." By making over many of the elements of two Hollywood films—Coppola's texts—Kusturica's film provides an overall wide degree of communicativeness or access to his Yugoslav story. But in his allusions to Yugoslav cinema, he has purposely built in a "home culture" element that speaks to those who know, without detracting from the pleasure and involvement the film has set up for the non-Yugoslav audiences. We are aware that such narrative layering is common in many forms. For example, Groucho Marx's asides are missed by many and a great pleasure to those who "get" them, but the existence of the asides themselves does not detract from the overall impact of a Marx brothers' comedy. Similarly, but on the level of cross-cultural, cross-cinematic tradition, Kusturica's border crossings speak to multiple audiences simultaneously.

Making over One's Own Career:
Cross My Gypsy Heart

Kusturica has, finally, made over his own themes and narrative concerns in The Time of the Gypsies . When asked by his son at the train station if he will return, Perhan looks at him and promises, "Cross my gypsy heart." Of course, like everyone else in the film, he breaks his promise. The complexity of the oedipal situation is thus passed from Perhan to the next generation, setting us up for the conclusion in which the son steals the gold coins off his father's eyes during the funeral.

In his essay on Spielberg's Always in this collection, Harvey Greenberg has explored clearly the oedipal implications of the cinematic remake. For recasting a film that another "father" has produced is both the son's effort to replace the father and, in choosing to use the same text, a nostalgic wish to hold on to childhood and the past. Kusturica's nods to Coppola's films are both a challenge and a form of asking for a blessing by striving to be a member of the cinematic family and business, both within his culture (the former Yugoslavia) and beyond: Hollywood, Europe, and the world.

In addition to such a traditional oedipal situation, however, exists the effort of the filmmaker to remake himself. Thus, we conclude that beyond Coppola and world cinema, Kusturica has "made over" his own films as well.


Thematically all three of his features have been male coming-of-age stories. This is particularly true of the film previous to Time of the Gypsies, When Father Was Away on Business , which won the Best Film award at Cannes in 1985. In that film we see a similar use of magic realism and dreams of flight as the main protagonist manages to "fly" over Sarajevo in his dreams and, perhaps, in reality as well in this tragicomic view of the post-Stalinist 1950s in Yugoslavia, when the boy-protagonist's father is not away on business but in prison on trumped up political charges. Also present in When Father is the actor Davor Dujmovic, who stars as Perhan in Time of the Gypsies . Furthermore, in his first film, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981), Kusturica presents a tale involving sexual initiation of a young male who is in conflict with a number of father figures who surround him, a motif also reflected in When Father and Time of the Gypsies .

Making over Culture:
Four Levels

Beyond the cinematic, the makeover calls attention to multiple cultural differences. As a Bosnian-Yugoslav making a film about gypsies in the gypsy language with Hollywood studio money, Kusturica was clearly involved in a "multicultural" project. Moreover, the echoes to Coppola's films serve to delineate more sharply, as reviews of the film have shown, the differences of cultures, turning all audiences into border crossers. Four cultural dimensions are studied here.

Making Over Theme:
The Stolid vs the Impermanent

While the thrust of the Puzo-Coppola trilogy is toward assimilation and the legitimization of their Italian American immigrants and their descendants, Kusturica's gypsies are shown to exist as they always have and, supposedly, always will: on the fringe, outside any traditional European cultures by choice . As Richard Corliss noted, these gypsies are "a Third World nation of wanderers, displaced and dispossessed in the midst of European bounty" (82). The opening ten minutes of The Godfather projects an overwhelming sense of solid, stolid immobility: the men in Don Corleone's study seem rooted to the heavy furniture and deep shadows. Kusturica's film reflects the impermanence of gypsy life itself. Within the cinematic frame, all is motion. And between cuts, characters constantly drift between Yugoslavia and Italy and back again. But there is more: the dominant motifs of Kusturica's film are of floating—people, animals, ghosts, objects including houses—and of the sound of the wind. It blows through the entire film, much as Gabriel García Márquez's wind blows through One Hundred Years of Solitude .

A key image is that of Perhan's house being literally pulled off its foun-


dations during a thunderstorm by his drunken Uncle Merdzan (it seems unlikely that the "merd" is an accident of naming). Merdzan has tied one end of a thick rope to the roof and the other to his mini-pickup truck and simply yanked away. That the security of home can so easily be destroyed becomes a lasting image for the film's audience.

The border crossing in this case is one of culture. Clearly Kusturica could have tried to make a film that did not consciously (even covertly) echo previous Hollywood texts, but in the realm of cultural discourse we realize that, by making over a familiar movie text, Kusturica is able to use his border crossing to highlight "different contexts, geographies, different languages, of otherness" (Giroux, 167).

Making over Patriarchs into Matriarchs

The Godfather trilogy is heavily patriarchal. By contrast, Time of the Gypsies , like gypsy culture itself, is strongly matriarchal. Even what could be called the theme song—a haunting gypsy Orthodox hymn to Saint George's Day—is sung by a young woman. The gender implications that radiate from such a makeover of Coppola's crime classics are profound, indeed. Kusturica's opening shot is of an unhappy bride and an unconscious (passed out drunk) groom. The gender pattern is immediately established: women survive and grieve while men pass out, leave, disappear, die.

Almost literally we feel in Kusturica's film that the center of Perhan's universe is his grandmother, Hatidza (played with poignant intensity by a gypsy, Ljubica Adzovic). She is a mountain of a woman who embraces her grandchildren with tears, laughter, advice, strength and who, of course, has a cigarette constantly dangling from her lips. Gypsy life is a kind of impermanent dream-myth, and it is Hatidza who is the mythmaker as well as the possessor of special powers. Perhan's odyssey toward becoming a godfather is set in motion when Hatidza is summoned by the current gypsy godfather, Ahmed (played with Brando-like expressions and gusto by Bora Todorovic, the all-time leading star of Yugoslav cinema)[4] , to save the life of one of his relative's sons. When she does so, Ahmed offers to take on Perhan as an apprentice in the "business" (Perhan does not yet know that it involves selling and exploiting Gypsy children).

Hatidza as healer, mediator between local quarrels, grandmother, substitute mother/father figure, and myth weaver embodies gypsy culture itself. In the "lift high the roof" scene already mentioned, Hatidza comforts a frightened Perhan and his sister by telling them this creation myth: "Once upon a time the Sky and Earth were man and wife. They had five children: Sun, Moon, Fire, Cloud, Water, and between them, they created a fine place for their children. The unruly Sun tried to part the Earth and the Sky, but


failed. The other children tried too but failed. But one day the Wind lunged at them and the Earth was parted from the Sky." Dream, reality, myth, and motherly concern all blend together at such a moment. Kusturica's film grows out of the reality of gypsy life and crime today, but it also embraces the mythic creation of the earth itself. Within the particular narrative of the film, the damage done by a man (the uncle) is handled by Grandma. The pattern continues throughout till we see Perhan's corpse laid out in the same home, with Hatidza mourning and yet carrying on as she must.

Fatherly Blessings Given and Absent

Building on the previous point, the parallel journeys of Michael Corleone and Perhan Feric as young males differ greatly. Michael's odyssey is one of growing into adulthood, as the Don "blesses" him while passing on the godfather role to him. Perhan, in contrast, is an orphan who never knows his father or mother. In fact, given Hatidza's mythmaking powers, there is no proof that the story she tells Perhan about his parents—that his mother was a very beautiful woman who died in childbirth and his father a handsome Slovenian soldier—is true. Either way, Perhan has no true father to pass on the "blessing" that commentators such as psychiatrist Peter Blos note is necessary for any boy to become a male adult (32). On a psychological level, therefore, Kusturica's protagonist and film are "frozen" in the world of a male adolescent who cannot come of age.

Coppola and Puzo's Michael Corleone has the task of accepting his father's blessing, making sense of his ethnic family and business heritage, and renegotiating these elements within a changing American culture. The male-centeredness of Coppola's trilogy is well captured in the opening sequence of The Godfather . While it is quickly established that the wedding of Don Corleone's daughter is taking place outside on a bright sunny day, the center of attention is the group of men gathered in the Don's darkly lit study. The strong sense of the father never leaves The Godfather trilogy and, we might add, culminates in Godfather III with the father figure of the pope as a significant image.

Perhan's world in Time in the Gypsies is quite the opposite. The film's opening shot of the unhappy fat bride has already been mentioned. From this shot on, Kusturica surrounds Perhan with women. He cares, for instance, for his sick sister (his initial reason for leaving home with the gypsy godfather is to help heal his sister).

But most important, his life intertwines with his true love, Azra (Simolicka Trpkova). It is with Azra that he first experiences love, sex, and companionship and, ultimately, marriage, the birth of a son (which may or may not have been fathered by his uncle), and death, as Azra dies in Italy. Perhan's


conflicted feelings for Azra—should he believe that her son is his?—are, of course, another expression of his failure to find an appropriate father figure to help him grow into maturity.

In an earlier scene, however, there are no conflicts at all. Kusturica orchestrates one of the most hauntingly beautiful scenes of sexual initiation ever to reach the silver screen. The moment happens immediately after Perhan's grandmother has described his parents to him. The scene is presented as a dream, as we see Perhan float through the sky clutching his beloved pet turkey on Saint George's day as a hymn to Saint George plays throughout on the sound track. As Perhan (and the camera) come down to earth, we see a river scene. Hundreds of gypsies with torches are gathered by the river to celebrate Saint George's day. On the river is a small wooden boat floating with Perhan and Azra, bare-chested, lying next to each other, playfully involved with each other.

Desire, religion, ritual, nature, music, and magic realism (dreams) all flow together in one "mirage" of sexual awakening. It is a joyous scene, the happiest moment of the film. Everything else in Perhan's life becomes a falling away from this moment of union with the woman he loves.

Nothing similar exists in the Godfather films. Men in Coppola's male-centered world exhibit no such pure joy in the presence of women, ritual, religion. Diane Keaton's "outsider's" role as Kay Adams is that of a proper Mafia wife and mother, with no sexuality presented or explored. Something much closer to the world of Time of the Gypsies is hinted at, of course, in the Sicilian romance and marriage scene as the young Michael courts a Sicilian beauty who is finally killed by a car bomb meant for Michael. But we never feel the completely embracing sense of women of all types that we feel in Kusturica's gypsy world.

Finally, for Perhan's female-centered universe we should mention the influence of his long-dead mother. She is represented by a wedding veil that trails through the sky at several points in the film. As Perhan dies, shot in the back by the godfather's new bride ("You ruined my wedding, you bastard!"), he looks heavenward and sees a combined image of the veil and his dead turkey, an image that unites his mother, Azra, and his pet.

Thus, much of the poignancy of Kusturica's film is that of a young male unable to become a man who both appreciates (loves) and fears the power and mystery of women.

Catholicism vs the Orthodox Faith

Coppola's trilogy draws a deeply ambivalent portrait of the Catholic Church and uses Catholic ritual as an important structuring device within the films. Kusturica's film, similarly uses church ritual and custom throughout, but it is the Orthodox faith of the Balkans (more specifically, the Serbian Ortho-


dox tradition). The prime example is the one just given: Perhan's sexual initiation takes place within the comforting frame of a traditional religious holiday, Saint George's Day. Religion for the gypsies is tied together with family, tradition, custom, culture, and personal identity.

It is not so in The Godfather . Clearly, one can map out The Godfather according to the Catholic rituals of a wedding, funerals, and, finally, a baptism. But Coppola introduces Catholicism in order to undercut it ironically (Hess, 84). For it is during a baptism that the baptism of blood takes place in parallel editing, as Michael has ordered a shooting of all rivals at the very moment he is at his sister's child's baptism. For Coppola's gangsters, Catholicism is omnipresent. But it is simply part of being "Italian American," rather than a spiritual force capable of guiding individuals in their lives. John Hess speaks well of Coppola's critical view of the church: "Religion is still an important prop of bourgeois ideology, and the church also represents a community of sorts. But by juxtaposing it with its opposite—murder, hatred, brutality—Coppola implicates the Church in this activity. By showing the Church's inability to comfort anyone, Coppola shows its impotence. It is one more bourgeois ideal that does not work" (87).

Godfather III caps all of Coppola's ambivalent feelings about the church, of course, as even the Vatican is drawn into mob activity.

Religion, finally, for Kusturica and his gypsy culture, is tied strongly to folk mysticism as the dreamlike magic realism scenes of floating veils and the floating pet turkey viewed in death, as well as the whole motif of Perhan's telekinetic powers, suggest. For the gypsies, Time of the Gypsies suggests, are part pagan, part Christian, part believers, part passionate hedonists. As in their lives, so in their faith: they live within a sense of multiple possibilities.

Stolen Coins:
Crossing All Borders

Leo Braudy puts it well in his remarks in this collection when he speaks of remakes as a form of "unfinished cultural business." The ending of Kusturica's gypsy narrative, with the young boy who may or may not be Perhan's son stealing the coins off Perhan's permanently sealed eyes before his burial, leaves us with a key to survival for gypsies: steal and run.

It is the perfect closing scene for a film about a culture that has survived because it exists beyond the cultural, political, spiritual, and economic borders of more stolid cultures by being itself perpetually "unfinished," impermanent, and in motion.

Finally, then, Kusturica's film is a survivor too because it refuses, like the gypsies, to be assimilated and identified completely with any one cinematic tradition. The perpetual state of making over cinematic texts and allusions,


with Coppola's The Godfather and Godfather II being the primary object of plundering, locates Kusturica in the "unfinished" state of being a Bosnianborn filmmaker who has gone beyond the borders of geography, politics, language, and regional culture (though he does strongly represent these as well) to "steal" from the international currency of cinema.

This "gypsy-" like approach to narrative and cinema is not the only one available to filmmakers from minority non-English-speaking cultures, of course. Theo Angelopoulos of Greece and Andrei Tarkovsky of Russia, for instance, created internationally praised films by turning away from classical Hollywood and European narrative traditions, cinematic and otherwise.

But Time of the Gypsies is a vibrant example of how the more recognized border crossing represented by Hollywood remaking the films of other cultures can be reversed with imaginative cinematic and provocative cultural implications.

Our parting shot takes us outside of cinema itself.

It is tragically ironic that Kusturica's first film Do You Remember Dolly Bell? ends with a tracking close-up of the main character, our young male rock 'n' roll singer, who, in voice-over as he rides in the back of a truck headed for a new apartment building, says, "In every way, every day, things are getting better." That same skyline in 1995, as this essay is completed, has been blown apart, and millions of the people have been left homeless, almost three hundred thousand murdered, and many others raped and tortured. The all-embracing range of Kusturica's cinematic vision has, in reality, become a nightmare of ethnic hatred that the darkest Hollywood war or crime genre film could not envision.

We can only hope that cinema itself can prove to be one form of border crossing beyond the boundaries of hatred, violence, and death.

Works Cited

Bellour, Raymond. "The Obvious and the Code." In Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology , edited by Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Blos, Peter. Son and Father: Before and beyond the Oedipus Complex. New York: Macmillan, 1985.

Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Branigan, Edward. Narrative Comprehension and Film. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Breskin, David. "Francis Ford Coppola: The Rolling Stone Interview." Rolling Stone , 7 February 1991, 60-66.

Buñuel, Luis. "Digression Seems to Be My Natural Way of Telling a Story." In My Last Sigh: The Autobiography of Luis Buñuel , translated by Abigail Israel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Corliss, Richard. "A People Cursed with Magic," Time , 19 February 1990, 82.

Cowie, Peter, ed. "Francis Ford Coppola." Film Guide International (1976): 50–59.

Durgnat, Raymond. Jean Renoir. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

Gallagher, Tag. John Ford: The Man and His Films. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986.

Giroux, Henry A. Disturbing Pleasures: Learning Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Gitlin, Todd. "Down the Tubes." In Seeing through Movies , edited by Mark Crispin Miller, 15–48. New York: Pantheon, 1990.

Goodwin, Michael, and Naomi Wise. On the Edge: The Life & Times of Francis Ford Coppola. New York: William Morrow, 1989.

Hess, John. "Godfather II: A Deal Coppola Couldn't Refuse." In Movies and Methods: An Anthology , edited by Bill Nichols, 81–90. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976.

Hinson, Hal. "Drifting in the World of Gypsies." Washington Post , February 21, 1990, p. D4.

Horton, Andrew, ed. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.

———. "Do You Remember Dolly Bell? " In Magill's Survey of Cinema: Foreign Language Films , 486–50. Los Angeles: Salem Press, 1985.

———. "Oedipus Unresolved: Covert and Overt Narrative Discourse in Emir


Kusturica's When Father Was Away on Business ." Cinema Journal 27, no. 4 (summer 1988): 64–81.

———. "Yugoslavia: A Multi-Faceted Cinema." In World Cinema since 1945 , edited by William Luhr, 639–660. New York: Ungar, 1987.

Insdorf, Annette. "Gypsy Life Beguiles a Film Maker," New York Times , 4 February 1990, pp. 18, 25.

Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan, 1986.

Pachasa, Arlene. "Time for Kusturica." American Film (January 1990: 40–44.

Shklovsky, Victor. Quoted in Wallace Martin, Recent Theories of Narrative . Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986.


Made in Hong Kong:
Translation and Transmutation

Patricia Aufderheide

Just as the comparison between Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) and Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) comments on the differences between Jean Renoir's Paris and Paul Mazursky's Los Angeles (Morgan, 1990), so other films that move along less predictable cultural pathways also reflect the cities in which they are made. Since those pathways are usually cut along the lines of the flow of power—economic, political, cultural—differences also refract those realities through a creative prism. In Hong Kong, a city where economic growth and political anxiety mix headily, a flourishing, unabashedly imitative cinema inescapably comments on surrounding social and political tensions in the choices of its adaptations.

In national and subcultural cinemas worldwide, issues of cultural autonomy, cultural and national identity, and resistance to international cultural domination are all familiar and intertwined themes (Armes, 1987; Cooper, 1989). Also familiar is the criticism of the exoticization of foreign cultures in international entertainment, as was done in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) (Shohat, 1991). At the same time, the entertainment appeal and market success of dominant international cinema is undeniable and, to many filmmakers, enviable.

Humor, irony, parody and flamboyant imitation can be seen as strategies to express both resistance to and fascination with dominant cinema (and culture). Within the U.S. mainstream tradition, one might point to Robert Townsend's 1987 Hollywood Shuffle, a send-up of many black film roles and racist film clichés. In Brazil, whose film industry has often struggled to compete with U.S. product (Aufderheide, 1987), wry and sometimes self-deprecating parodies have long been a staple. For instance, High Noon (1952) was parodied in Kill or Run (1954), in which the hero role is buffoonish and cowardly; Jaws (1975) called forth the raucous comedy Codfish


(1976) (Vieira, 1982, 259, 262). In Nigeria, James Bond's 007 has been one-upped, at least numerically, by a local hero, "009." The spoofing of Hollywood reflects a simultaneous chafing at and admiration for at least some aspects of internationally dominant film culture, and it carries distinctive regional and national implications.

Hong Kong is a case in point. The postage stamp—size British crown colony, poised uneasily for integration into China in 1997, has a complex history in which East met West, fought, and eventually did business. Its post—World War II political history has been powerfully affected by tensions with mainland China, which resulted in pervasive and enduring censorship, earlier marked by anticommunism and more recently censorship of films that might antagonize China (Elley, 1988, 203). Culturally, it has been a place where different international currents of pop culture come together. It has also been marked by an international trading economy in perpetual high gear, which among other things has generated an elaborate underworld whose money laundering has benefited the film industry.

Hong Kong film has been a favorite with the locals since the 1930s, and widespread anxiety over 1997 has apparently only fueled "moviemaking fever" (Elley, 1992, 185; O'Brien, 1992, 39). It is a rare case of a small national cinema where local productions outsell imports at the box office. Helping the financial situation is the fact that the Hong Kong market extends not only throughout the Pacific Rim but worldwide, although violent fluctuations in the market are common. Wherever there are Chinatowns, there are devotees of Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat. But it is also a remarkable testimonial to Hong Kong's cultural uniqueness that national cinema has always been commercially successful.

A distinctive and long-standing feature of Hong Kong film—perhaps one indicator of Hong Kong's unusual positioning as an international business crossroads—is its voracious appetite for imitation, most boldly of Hollywood material but also of anything that has had international commercial success. Hong Kong movies as a whole constitute, for critic Geoffrey O'Brien, "a single metanarrative incorporating every available variant of sentimental, melodramatic and horrific plotting set to the beat of nonstop synthesized pop music" (9).

Some of the most popular Hong Kong films have been remakes, takeoffs or simply steals of popular American movies. Hong Kong—based film critic Paul Fonoroff notes that both in Shanghai and Hong Kong, Charlie Chan knockoffs were made in the 1930s and 1940s, starring a Chinese actor who resembled Hollywood's (Caucasian) Charlie Chan, Warner Oland. Other instantly imitated films include Some Like It Hot (1959; Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining [1960]), City Heat (1984; All the Wrong Clues [1984]), and Police Academy (1984; Naughty Cadets on Patrol [1986]) (Fonoroff, 1988).

The past is also fertile territory for rifling; a Jackie Chan hit of the 1989–


90 season was a period film set in the 1930s, Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, a remake of Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles (1961) (Elley, 1991, 188). Imitation does not restrain itself to one major source, either. An early success by Vietnamese-born, Texas-trained, Hong Kong—based (and now Toronto-based as well) Tsui Hark, Butterfly Murders (1979), drew different elements from a Chinese novel, a Japanese thriller, Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), and George Lucas's Star Wars (1977).

In addition, the Hong Kong film industry is notorious for seizing upon a working formula (for instance, John Woo's high-violence gangster drama A Better Tomorrow [1986]) and then working it to death. (A Better Tomorrow generated two sequels and many imitators.) It own movie traditions instantly become grist for remakes, parodies, and transformations. The post—World War II history of Hong Kong film is the rapid rise, flourishing, exhaustion, and transformation of genres—such as the evolution of the martial arts drama from origins in a kind of Eastern western (bad guys attack the village) into swordplay films, kung-fu comedy, and "spectacular mega-comedy" (Lent, 1990, 115–16; Hong Kong International Film Festival, 34 and passim).

The brazen and catholic imitation of Hong Kong films permits, ironically, a kind of cultural autonomy over the material. Like genre work generally, imitation emphasizes treatment, style, and selection rather than originality of raw material, and it positively values entrepreneurial opportunism. The attitude mirrors and even plays with prevailing stereotypes of Hong Kong commercial culture.

A recent Hong Kong action film by the renowned comic and producer Samo Hung, Eastern Condors (1986), provides an intriguing case of the tongue-in-cheek remake. The film, a commercial failure on its release despite its all-star cast and star director, has become a cult classic. Set in post-war Vietnam, it replays the characters, themes, and plot of The Dirty Dozen (1967), with touches of Rambo (1985), The Deer Hunter (1978), and The Guns of Navarone (1961). The film also draws on traditions of Chinese opera—style acrobatics and martial arts films to entertain audiences entirely aware of genre expectations in at least two cultures.

Samo Hung is the person to weave together these expectations. Born in Hong Kong circa 1950, he studied traditional Chinese singing, acrobatics, and martial arts for Chinese opera as a student, becoming a child star. Working first as a martial arts instructor for the hugely successful Golden Harvest studio, he went on to become a major Hong Kong star and film producer, making his first film in 1977. His films have been marked by a zesty reworking of traditional entertainment forms, both Eastern and Western (Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1980, 173–74; Overby, 1987, 177).

In Eastern Condors, Samo Hung cheerfully mixes and matches from East


and West to produce an action drama with comic overtones. As in The Dirty Dozen, each of a group of convicted "Asian American" felons in U.S. jails—a buffoon, a stutterer, a coward, a grizzled cynic, and so on, each a major star—is offered a chance at suicidal heroism in exchange for a clean slate and two hundred thousand dollars if he survives. (Samo Hung himself plays the intrepid second in command and eventual leader of the survivors.) The mission, evocative of The Guns of Navarone, is to destroy a U.S. arsenal of 2 million pounds of explosives left behind in Vietnam by the Americans. The enemy is the fat-cat Vietnamese military bureaucracy; the allies are Cambodian women guerrillas. On the eve of departure, the colonel (also Asian American) tells the commando team leader, "Just do the job and don't get killed." However, he also asks him to rescue his brother, trapped in a Vietnamese village, if possible.

Upon parachuting into Vietnam (the jump is midway when the mission is canceled, but the leader proceeds anyway, following his men), the ragtag bunch falls in with the guerrillas, who acrobatically dazzle their enemies and rescue the fallen parachutists. One team member doesn't make it; the stutterer has taken too literally the leader's command to "count to twenty" before opening the chute, and is still on "sixteen" when they find him on the ground. This mixture of buffoonery and gore is typical of the film's tone (although Hong Kong audiences reportedly found the humor far too subtle [S. C. Dacy, personal communication, 28 December 1992]).

Vietnamese troops on river patrol surprise a team member urinating in a field, mortally wounding him and triggering a battle. They escape with the wounded man. "It's only a bruise," his buddy tells him with false bravado, as he gazes appalled at the ghastly chest wound. "We won't let you die," he says, as the man expires.

Anger at the leader's silence on the purpose of the mission leads to a walkout. National pride turns the situation around, when a friend runs up to a deserter and says, "It's ok for a Vietnamese [referring to another deserter] to leave, but it's a disgrace for us Hong Kong men." He returns "for the dignity of it."

A handful of the men proceed to the colonel's brother's village—it's a Vietnamese military stronghold, of course—and there find both the brother (played by Haing S. Ngor, who had won an Academy Award for his role in The Killing Fields [1984]), apparently deranged, and a cheerfully apolitical but extremely entrepreneurial peddler (the renowned Hong Kong actor Yuen Biao). Both perforce join the team in the ensuing confrontation.

The group is reunited when the guerrilla women show up on the peddler's motor scooter, and they flee to the forest where another urination scene triggers a battle and their capture.

In camp, the heroes are put in tiger cages; one is tortured and hard-eyed


local children force the POWs to play Russian roulette. The team deploys acrobatics and martial arts once again, dodging and setting explosives as well, in their escape. One soldier dies at the hand of one of the hard-eyed kids, after refusing to kill him.

In the forest, the latest casualty's brother grieves loudly, saying he prefers to die in place with his brother if he cannot know the reason for the mission. Just as the leader is about the reveal it, one of the guerrillas is discovered to be a spy and is executed by her fellow guerrillas.

Hotly pursued by the Vietnamese, the commando team must cross a heavily defended bridge; the crossing leaves two mortally wounded. They stay to stave off the tanks with explosives. (The grizzled cynic says he doesn't mind "dying in the East," since "my daughters are all married.") "Uncle, see you down below," says the younger man, grunting in pain. "No, up above," assures the other as his vision fails him.

When the heroes finally encounter the weapons arsenal—an underground set looking, as producer S. C. Dacy (personal communication, 21 December 1992) has noted, like a low-rent steal from a James Bond film—the scene is set for the final encounter, which involves close shooting, running up and down ladders, and explosions. Our heroes are in competition with the wounded Cambodian guerrilla leader, who lays claim to the arms for her cause. She dies, but takes a bad guy with her. The remaining heroes—the second in command, another soldier, and the local peddler—escape through the (polluted) sewer as the entire top of the mountain is blown away, plunging over a (cleansing) waterfall to (Western) freedom.

The film borrows in a cheerfully catholic way from all available traditions. Martial arts traditions as they had evolved into fantastic and showy displays by the 1970s (the period in which Samo Hung was a martial arts instructor) are of course fully exploited. So are story lines and characters. For instance, the peddler character draws from a Hong Kong slapstick comedy tradition of the little guy who lives by his wits and wisecracks (Hong Kong International Film Festival, 1980, 34; Rayns, 1992, 22).

East and West mix and match. For instance, the guerrillas conform to a stereotype, evolved in Chinese opera and backed by a long literary tradition, of the aggressive heroine, often disguised as a boy, who confronts the enemies (Eberhard, 1972, 6–7). At the same time, the execution of the spy by her comrade, after the commando team members hesitate, echoes a scene in The Guns of Navarone . In it, Gregory Peck hesitates to kill a woman who betrayed them; she is then killed by another woman partisan.

The Dirty Dozen gleefully inverted some basic elements of the World War II combat film by portraying the group as tainted from the start, making its mission questionable, and celebrating the antihero (Basinger, 1986, 202–13). Critics called it "a glorification of the dropout" (Sarris, 1970, 296), "irresponsible" (Drummond, 1967, 445), and "a studied indulgence


in sadism" that encouraged "hooliganism" (Crowther, 1967). It went on to become one of the biggest box office hits of the year, appreciated for its high-intensity war action by some, and for its sly anti-authoritarianism and underlying commentary on the savagery of warfare by others.

Eastern Condors builds on and plays with this legacy of anti-authoritarianism and ragtag heroics, by now itself a cliché. The conventions are the object of knowing irony—there's a "Hey guys, it's only a movie" quality to the whole film. The comic banter, the slow motion shots to let the viewer savor the spectacular action (a staple technique of Hong Kong action films), and of course visual jokes clue the viewer to the fact that the framework of reference is familiar. For instance, as a night scene begins the good guys are seen in infrared rifle sights, backed by ominous music; suddenly we see that some members of the team are spying on others, to see if anyone's involved in hanky-panky with the guerrillas. The conventions, however, simply facilitate the action plot. Thus, Eastern Condors can be read as a simple action thriller or as an arch, sophisticated send-up of the form.

The Dirty Dozen was widely seen as, if not an antiwar film, at least a product of the Vietnam era and its cultural conflicts. Eastern Condors might be seen as a product of the 1997 era, using the past as a metaphor for the perils of the future.

Eastern Condors, like several of its sources, pits an unstructured fighting unit against minions of a hostile state, led by an arrogant and dandified officer. Its digs against the Communist Vietnamese government are unsubtle. Like The Deer Hunter, the film enthusiastically uses tiger cages and Russian roulette as emblems of the monstrosity of the regime, even though the South Vietnamese government had been better known for tiger cages than the Communist Northern government that eventually ran the country, and Russian roulette games appear to have been a product of media imagination. It too celebrates guerrilla military actions, while at the same time linking them to feminine wiliness.

As in Rambo, misunderstood heroes are refighting the Vietnam war, against the odds. But these heroes do not have or need the peculiarly American chip on the shoulder, Rambo's smoldering resentment against an authority that he trusted and that betrayed him, his will to rewrite his own country's history with his muscles (Aufderheide, 1991). These heroes are aware that they are cleaning up the mess someone else—the Americans—left behind, a mess the Americans could be expected to make.

The Americans are untrustworthy from the start, on a personal and cultural basis. The white, U.S. military officer briefing his men at the outset snarls, "Well, we lost the goddamn war." The Americans' pusillanimous vacillation is shown by the last-minute (but rejected) cancellation of the mission. The jailer who releases the criminals who will become the commando team says, leering, "Take ten, take a hundred . . . and if that's not


enough, no problem. I can always arrest more." So these men fight not to vindicate America, and not even, in the end, for their release from jail and cash reward, but for their own reputations as "Hong Kong men."

The resentment generated by the Americans' perceived contemptuous attitude, especially in light of American incompetence, is demonstrated at the story's outset. In the opening scene, as the commando team's future leader is being driven past a military post, a hapless U.S. soldier is trying to raise the U.S. flag. But the flag is stuck, and so the bugles keep tooting while the soldier yanks. "Why are foreigners so stupid?" says his Asian American colleague. The officer jumps out of the jeep, shinnies up the flagpole, releases the catch, shoots down, and smartly salutes the flag. The superiority of the Chinese hero over the creaky imperial military machine has been deftly demonstrated, as has his therapeutic contempt.

Clearly, the United States, as the military power that created the problem our heroes have to solve, is the most powerful, if behind the scenes, geopolitical force in the story. As the conclusion makes clear, it is also the most powerful cultural force, a focus of desire as well as rage and contempt.

The three survivors stagger away from the waterfall, onto a plain where they wonder if the plane will arrive. One soldier, now free but stunned by his travails, rails to the skies, "So those Americans brought us this. Fucking America, God damn America!" "Where will you go if the plane arrives?" asks the stalwart. "America, of course!" he replies.

Thus, as in the Brazilian parody genre, Eastern Condors pays tribute to an enduring love-hate relationship with a culture whose movies provide not merely entertainment but promotions for a way of life. (Not for nothing is Jack Valenti at the Motion Picture Association of America proud to call Hollywood America's ambassador to the world.) It also reflects an uneasy and censored concern with the power of its neighbor and soon-to-be-owner, China. It indirectly alludes to the flight fantasies of many Hong Kong residents uneasy about the 1997 transition—as the closing song asks, "How to get out?" Eastern Condors' pointedly negative references to communism, its celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit, its portrayal of Hong Kong as the cleanup crew for the bungling imperial power, all bolster the final reference to flight.

In these allusions to 1997, and in their very indirectness, Eastern Condors is at one with much recent Hong Kong work ("Hongkong's Film-makers," 1990; Elley, 1991, 185; Rayns, 1992, 21–22) marked by "a fearful undertone of geographic precariousness" (O'Brien, 1992, 43). Many in the Hong Kong filmmaking community have either invested or actually relocated—as has Samo Hung himself—overseas. But reference to 1997 and flight has been encoded or treated in what critic Tony Rayns calls a "frivolous" way (Rayns, 1992, 21), because of the combination of political censorship and the drive for box office popularity. Tsui Hark's bold, dark 1980 experiment


in imagining a post-1997 future, Dangerous Encounters—First Kind, was a box office flop. By contrast, his 1986 Peking Opera Blues, with clear and intended parallels between the early twentieth-century period of warlord rule in China and the immediate future, was a hit. Filmgoers appear to like their anxiety refracted through an entertainment matrix.

Perhaps it was the entertainment threshold that Eastern Condors, with its anti-imperial grace notes, did not clear on its release, when Hong Kong audiences initially dismissed it (S. C. Dacy, personal communication, 28 December 1992). One common reaction, apparently, was to reject the film's premise—the commando team—as being too Western, a military action that was simply unbelievable in a Chinese context, with Chinese stars. The film, under this logic, simply deviated too far from the martial arts origins of Hong Kong action films. At the same time, it was that very setup that permitted the expression of chafing under cultural colonialism that marks the film and that has contributed to its cult success.

The choices for imitation and transformation in Eastern Condors bespeak the peculiar historical conditions of the Hong Kong colony in a moment of anxiety-laden transition. It would be interesting to pursue the question of genre parody in other cross-cultural permutations, to see what is fashioned when Hollywood, seen as a cultural dominator, is remade in one's own image.

In addition, the Hong Kong film industry may be pioneering a new phase in global cinema. In the nineties, Hong Kong films became filmfest fashion in the West, and Hong Kong directors—notably John Woo—have won U.S. studio contracts. Hong Kong cinema, itself a pastiche product, may now become the inspiration for tomorrow's Hollywood hits.

Works Cited

Armes, Roy. Third World Filmmaking and the West. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987.

Aufderheide, Patricia. "Brazil." In World Cinema since 1945, edited by William Luhr, 70–85. New York: Ungar, 1987.

———. "Good Soldiers." In Seeing through Movies, edited by Mark Miller, 81–111. New York: Pantheon, 1991.

Basinger, Jeanine. The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Cooper, Scott. "The Study of Third Cinema in the U.S.A. Reaffirmation." In Questions of Third Cinema, edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen, 218–222. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press; London: British Film Institute, 1989.

Crowther, Bosley. "The Dirty Dozen (June 16, 1967)." In New York Times Film Reviews . New York: New York Times and Arno Press, 1970.

Drummond, G. "The Dirty Dozen." Films in Review 28, no. 7 (August–September 1967): 445–446.


Eberhard, W. The Chinese Silver Screen: Hong Kong and Taiwanese Motion Pictures in the 1960's. Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1972.

Elley, Derek. "Hongkong." In Cowie, Peter, ed., International Film Guide, 200–204. New York: New York Zoetrope, 1988.

———. "Hongkong." In Variety International Film Guide, edited by Peter Cowie, 185–189. New York: Samuel French, 1991.

Fonoroff, P. "Orientation." Film Comment (June 1988): 52–56.

Fourth Hong Kong International Film Festival. A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film. Hong Kong: Hongkong International Film Festival, 1980.

"Hongkong's Film-makers and 1997: The Shadow of the Square." The Economist 315 (12 May 1990): 93–4.

Lent, John A. The Asian Film Industry. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.

Morgan, J. "From Clochards to Cappuccinos: Renoir's Boudu Is 'Down and Out' in Beverly Hills." Cinema Journal 29, no. 2 (winter 1990): 23–35.

O'Brien, Geoffrey. "Blazing Passions." New York Review of Books, 24 September 1992, 38–43.

Overby, D. "Eastern Horizons." Festival of Festivals [catalog]. Toronto: Twelfth Toronto International Film Festival, 1987.

Rayns, Tony. "Hard Boiled." Sight and Sound (August 1992): 19–23.

Sarris, Andrew. Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955–1969. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

Shohat, Ella. "Imagining Terra Incognita: The Disciplinary Gaze of Empire." Public Culture 3, no. 2 (1991): 41–70.

Vieira, J. L. "From High Noon to Jaws: Carnival and Parody in Brazilian Cinema." In Brazilian Cinema, edited by R. Johnson and R. Stam, 252–269. London: Associated, 1982.


Modernity and Postmaternity:
High Heels and Imitation of Life

Lucy Fischer

Remaking a Remake

Reappropriating existing representations . . . and putting them into new and ironic contexts is a typical form of postmodern . . . critique.
Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism

Pedro Almodovar's High Heels (Tacones Lejanos, 1991) is a work that might be placed within the emerging genre of "postmodern" film. In fact, a review of it by Roger Ebert notes how "the writers of New York weeklies" regularly link that term to the film's director. As Linda Hutcheon makes clear, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern aesthetic is its radical intertextuality—its tendency to quote and recycle tropes and thematics from the discursive past.

Almodovar has acknowledged this inclination. He has deemed himself a creative "mirror with a thousand faces" that "reflect[s] everything around [him]" (Morgan, 28). While admitting a penchant for homage, he notes his citations are not the "tributes of a cinephile." Rather, they arise "in a lively and active way" as organic features of the text (Morgan, 28).

It is within this framework that we might envision High Heels as a remake of Douglas Sirk's canonical film, Imitation of Life (1959). Many have recognized Sirk's influence on Almodovar's style. The latter bemoans the devaluation of melodrama and calls Sirk a "genius" (Morgan, 29). To characterize Almodovar's theatrical mode, Roger Ebert deems it "inspired" by Sirk (44). Dave Kehr sees, in the Spaniard's "bold, ironic use of color," a tribute to the Hollywood legend (F7).

Clearly, however, there are specific aspects of High Heels that solicit a comparison to Imitation of Life .[1] Both films take a female performer as their heroine. Imitation traces a decade in the life of Lora Meredith (Lana


Turner), and aspiring actress who eventually achieves success on Broadway and the silver screen. High Heels follows the character of Becky Del Paramo (Marisa Paredes), a singer who is already a star when the narrative begins. In both cases, the protagonist has a tense and troublesome relationship with her daughter. In Imitation, Susie (Sandra Dee) accuses Lora of parental neglect and becomes enamored of her mother's lover—a circumstance that brings the women's conflict to a head. In High Heels, Rebecca (Victoria Abril) similarly accuses Becky and marries (then murders) her mother's former lover, Manuel.

In both texts, there is a subplot involving another parent-child dyad. In Imitation, it involves the family of Lora's maid, Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore). In High Heels, it concerns the menage of Judge Dominguez (Miguel Bose), the man investigating Manuel's homicide.[2] In both cases, the child involved in the subplot is a performer whose vocational choice mocks that of the heroine. In Imitation, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) becomes a burlesque dancer; in High Heels, Dominguez goes "under cover" as a female impersonator. In both instances, the parent in the subplot is involved with the star performer. In Imitation, Annie serves as Lora's backstage confidante and dresser. And in High Heels, Senora Dominguez keeps a fan album of clippings on Becky's career.

At times, the parallel between the films is even tighter. Both open with sequences involving a beach locale and a lost child. In Imitation, Lora frantically searches a Coney Island boardwalk for Susie, who has disappeared. In High Heels, as Rebecca awaits the arrival of her mother's airplane, she recalls running away as a youth during a seaside vacation. Both films end in heart-wrenching deathbed scenes. In Imitation it is that of the black domestic; in High Heels it is that of the heroine.

High Heels' status as a remake is made more complex by the intricate "genetics" of Imitation . Originally written by Fannie Hurst in 1932 as a piece of serialized magazine fiction, it was published as a book in 1933. It was first adapted for the screen by John Stahl in 1934, then later refashioned by Sirk. Hence, High Heels constitutes a remake of a remake, a copy of a copy, an imitation of an Imitation . (See figure 24.)

A Postmodern Simulacrum

Rather than a mere expression of nostalgia, postmodernism may be seen as an attempt to recover the morphological continuity of specific culture. The use of past styles in this case is motivated not by a simple escapism, but by a desire to understand our culture and ourselves as products of previous codings.
James Collins, "Postmodernism and Cultural Practice"


Aside from its citation of Imitation, there are other reasons why Almodovar's film constitutes a postmodern remake. Its intertextual vision is highly parodic—filled with (which Hutcheon has termed) "self-conscious, self-contradictory, self-undermining statement" (1). In the Sirk film, melodramatic moments often border on comedy (as when the telephone rings for Lora with a job offer each time she is about to kiss her lover, Steve [John Gavin]). This nascent farce (just below the histrionic facade) was apparent to Rainer Werner Fassbinder—whose films were also modeled on Sirk's. Here is an excerpt from Fassbinder's tongue-in-cheek summary of Imitation (which he calls a "great, crazy movie about life and death . . . [a]nd . . . America"): "[The characters] are always making plans for happiness, for tenderness, and then the phone rings, a new part and Lana revives. The woman is a hopeless case. So is John Gavin. He should have caught on pretty soon that it won't work" (Fischer, 1991A, 244–45).

In High Heels the ironic and melodramatic modes are nearly indistinguishable. When Becky and Rebecca are first reunited, they embrace. At that heightened instant, Rebecca's earring becomes caught in Becky's hair. When Judge Dominguez asks Becky whether she has killed Manuel, she replies, "You don't do that before an [theatrical] opening." Later, as Becky is taken away in an ambulance, she tells her homicidal daughter, "Find another way to solve your problems with men."

Beyond its conjuration of Imitation, the film's cinematic references are quite extensive. With Almodovar's focus on maternal melodrama, there are intimations of Mildred Pierce (1945). That film also depicts an incestuous triangle in which a daughter kills her mother's lover. Like Becky, Mildred attempts to assume responsibility for her offspring's crime. (Interestingly, Roger Ebert sees the performance of Marisa Paredes in High Heels as "inspired . . . [or inhabited by] Joan Crawford" [44]). While Mildred Pierce is never mentioned in almodovar's film, Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978) is. That film (which concerns a woman's struggle with her renowned pianist-mother) is cited by Rebecca to explain how she is plagued by Becky's fame. Other quotations issue from Dominguez's pose as a female. As he sings in a nightclub, members of the audience duplicate his every gesture (like spectators of The Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975]). When Dominguez confesses his love to Rebecca and she rebuffs him for cross-dressing, he replies, "Nobody's perfect." That line replicates one spoken by Osgood (Joe E. Brown) in Some Like it Hot (1959) when he learns that the woman he adores is a man.

While High Heels circulates in elitist film markets, its citations often derive from mass culture—a fact that distinguishes postmodernist from modernist works. As Almodovar, himself, has stated: "I think you can look at genre . . . without making those 'exquisite' divisions of art cin-



Figure 24.
Lana Turner struts her stylish stuff in Douglas Sirk's  Imitation of Life  (1959),
a remake of the 1934 version with Claudette Colbert.

ema [and] popular cinema" (Morgan, 28). That his quotations are often from American movies, testifies to the hegemony of Hollywood film in the world economy, as well as to America's more "egalitarian" vision of the arts.[3]

Aside from deconstructing the binaries of high and low culture, the postmodern work has been said to relax the boundaries between fact and fiction. Hutcheon sees the form as enacting a process of hybridization "where the borders are kept clear, even if they are frequently crossed" (37). High Heels slyly suggests the "real" in its invocation of a controversy that surrounded the making of Imitation: the fatal stabbing of Lana Turner's lover by her daughter, Cheryl Crane, in April of 1958 (Fischer, 1991A, 216–18). In High Heels, this fact reenters (with a vengeance) in Rebecca's twin murders: her childhood killing of her stepfather (by switching his medications) and her later shooting of Manuel.[4] While this subtext can be excavated from Imitation, it is on the surface in High Heels, which makes crime the central axis of the drama (Fischer, 1991A, 21–8). Thus, High Heels par-


takes in a dual homage: to the fictional narrative of Sirk's film and to the documented tragedy of Turner and Crane. As though to suggest the infamous 1958 tabloid expose, Almodovar makes Rebecca a newscaster who confesses her offense during a broadcast. He also has Becky write her memoirs, a fact that alludes to the autobiographies penned by Turner and Crane. If Marisa Paredes reminds us of Joan Crawford, thoughts of Mommie Dearest (1981) cannot be far behind.

While High Heels accesses the "real" of a Hollywood scandal, it relinquishes the theme of race so prominent in Imitation, figuring it only in a flashback of the "natives" who populate the island of Rebecca's childhood vacation. If "passing" is at issue in the film, it is devoid of racial overtones and attends to Judge Dominguez and his feminine disguise.[5]

As High Heels intermingles fact and fiction, so it crosses genres—much as Judge Dominguez crosses dress. (Almodovar himself states that he does not "respect the boundaries of . . . genre" but "mix[es] it with other things" [Kinder, 1987, 38]). Hence, High Heels is a "hybrid" of the melodramatic, satirical, and film noir modes. The film's myriad references to cinema, publishing, and television tap into another postmodern theme: the overwhelming presence of media within contemporary culture—producing a vision of existence as the transmission of synthetic images. For Jean Baudrillard, we live in an age in which "production and consumption" have given way to "networks" through which we experience an "ecstasy of communication" (1983, 127). Significantly, the life dramas in Almodovar's film are enacted on TV. Manuel is a network executive. Not only does Rebecca break down during a televised program but her mother and Judge Dominguez learn of her wrongdoing by watching the show. Likewise, it is by viewing TV that Rebecca discerns her mother is ill. Finally, a narrative twist arises when Rebecca claims the wrong set of prints from a photographic lab—as though to symbolize the rampant confusion of images in the world. Clearly, the issue of artificiality is already apparent in Imitation, whose title and theatrical setting unavoidably elicit the theme (Affron, Stern).

Other aspects of High Heels reveal a postmodern bent. At times, the drama suffers "lapses" at odds with its overall continuity. (David Kehr, for example, complains of the film's "strange displacements.") When Rebecca is jailed and sent to the prison courtyard, several inmates enact a bizarre, choreographed "production number" reminiscent of those in a Hollywood musical. On another occasion, when Rebecca reads the television news, she laughs as she reports the weekend traffic fatalities (as though to reference Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend [1968]). In both cases, the diegesis is ruptured through homage. At other times, the slippage is produced by an excess of emotion rather than by an ironic gap. As Becky sings in a theater (distraught over Rebecca's incarceration), she kisses the stage floor, whereupon a tear drop falls and lands on her bright red lip print. It is an unlikely


moment that functions as a pure icon of sentimentality (like a bird on a branch in a D. W. Griffith film).

"Sign Crimes against the Big Signifier of Sex"

Nothing is less certain today than sex.
Jean Baudrillard, Seduction

Perhaps, the most postmodern aspect of High Heels is its presentation of gender. Postmodernism has been known for its decentered and negotiable engagement of subjectivity: both that of its dramatis personae and of its audience. (As Hutcheon explains, subjectivity "is represented as something in process" [39]). Privileged in this regard is the genre's depiction of sexuality. According to Arthur Kroker and David Cook, a "reversible and mutable language of sexual difference" is a yardstick of postmodern discourse (20). Elsewhere, they describe the postmodern creator as "committing sign crimes against the big signifier of Sex" (21).

In High Heels, this authorial "larceny" (which duplicates Rebecca's) arises in a variety of ways. Clearly, one of the most transgressive aspects of the narrative is the figure of Judge Dominguez who allegedly goes "under cover" as "Femme Lethal" (a female impersonator), in order to solve the case of a transvestite's murder. (As Barbara Creed has noted, the androgyne is a signal figure in today's mass culture [65]). While we assume that Rebecca knows that Lethal is a man when she follows him into his dressing room, she seems shocked as he disrobes—perhaps, because he has a mole on his penis. While the two become amorous, he does not use his genitals for their erotic caper. Rather, in a more gender-neutral manner, he performs cunnilingus as she hangs from the rafters. What is not revealed at this time is that Lethal is Judge Dominguez (though an astute viewer can surmise it). But when this is disclosed, along with his professional rationale for cross-dressing, we are not convinced that it "explains" his behavior. Rather, we suspect that his real reasons are "under cover" too. Perhaps, he is not (what Chris Straayer would term) a "temporary transvestite," but one with a more permanent commitment [36]). Recalling the parallel subplots of Imitation and High Heels, we are reminded that Dominguez "stands in" for Sarah Jane—also a nightclub performer—thus, accomplishing yet another gender crossing.

To make this issue more slippery, there is a second sexually enigmatic character in the film. When Rebecca is jailed, she meets Chon, an inmate who seems atypically large for a woman. One considers whether she is a male in drag, but rejects this theory due to her exposed, prominent, (and seemingly "natural") breasts. Evidently, however, for the Spanish audience the situation is less perplexing. Chon is played by a notorious Spanish trans-


sexual, Bibi Andersson—ostensibly named for the Swedish movie star (Morgan, 29). (Curiously, while writing this paper, I happened upon an edition of The Maury Povich Show entirely dedicated to the plight of imprisoned transsexuals—which indicates that the situation goes beyond one of Almodovar's campy plot devices.)[6]

The question of gender instability seems encapsulated in an exchange within the film. When Manuel asks Lethal if he is male or female, the latter replies, "For you, I'm a man." Clearly, Lethal's drag performance highlights another element within postmodern discourse—a penchant for the carnivalesque. For Brian McHale, "[P]ostmodernist fiction has reconstituted both the formal and the topical . . . repertoires of carnivalized literature" (173).

In all these cases, the notion of gender is presented as something flexible rather than fixed; it is one more Truth that postmodernism can dismantle. And the cinema is especially adept at executing such a masquerade. For, as Parker Tyler once noted, "With its trick faculties and gracile arts of transformation, the film's technical nature makes it the ideal medium for penetrating a mask, physical or social, and thus for illustrating once more that . . . things are not always what they seem" (210).

For Almodovar, however, the nature of Dominguez's protean sexuality has broader political ramifications: "[F] or me, there is ambiguity in justice and that's why I have given it to the character of the judge. I don't know what the face of justice is—sometimes it's masculine, sometimes it's feminine" (Morgan, 29). Curiously, in his last remark, Almodovar implies that masculinity and femininity exist as static and oppositional poles—rather than as the fluid continuum the film seems to imagine.

Beyond remaking a man as a woman, High Heels' postmodernist remake casts Lethal as counterfeiting the theatrical persona of Becky. It is her appearance he conjures at the cabaret, and her signature musical number that he performs. He later even apologizes to her for his "imitation." This plot device has numerous connotations. It foregrounds the power of the female star as a "role model" not only for women but for men. Specifically, it invokes the gay camp mimicry of such figures as Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Lana Turner. For, as Rebecca Bell-Mettereau has noted, "The homosexual impersonator's desire is to imitate a woman of power and prestige, a professional performer rather than a 'real woman'" (5). Lethal's simulation also reveals what many theorists have observed about "femininity" within patriarchal culture: that it requires a masquerade even of biological women—a performance not all that different from drag (Doane, 1990; Johnston). Judith Butler, in fact, sees the engagement of gender as requiring a failed imitation of an elusive prototype: "[T]he repetitive practice of gender . . . can be understood as the vain and persistent conjuring and displacement of an idealized original, one which



Figure 25.
Ana Lizaran, Marisa Paredes, and Victoria Abril star in Pedro Almodovar's
hilarious and timely Spanish update of  Imitation of Life  (1959),  High Heels  (1991).

no one at any time has been able to approximate" (2). Significantly, she sees the narrative of Imitation as exemplifying this process, through its focus on the hyperfemale, Lora Meredith.

But the more intriguing element of Lethal's approximation of Becky is that it places him within the maternal position: after all, it is Rebecca's mother whom he ends up "being." Rebecca even acknowledges this. When she encounters a poster for Lethal on the street (see figure 25), she tells Becky that she had gone to see him when she missed her. Thus, in reproducing himself as a female, Dominguez also becomes the human capable of corporeal reproduction: woman. This facsimile of motherhood becomes more resonant when one recalls that, earlier in the film, Rebecca had accused Becky of merely "acting" her parental role—a charge also issued by Susie to Lora in Imitation .[7]

But what are the implications of this narrative move, as regards the film's overall sexual politics? Typical of postmodernism, a multiplicity of readings and subject positions are offered to us. On one level, the device seems to raise questions about the relationship between a heterosexual woman's adult desire for a man and her infantile love for her mother. According to the prescribed psychiatric script, if a girl is to become heterosexual, she must "shift" her affection from her mother to a male. While in the


traditional literature, this turnabout is likened to a substitution, recent views have cast it as a supplementation. While the girl does not relinquish her affection for her mother, she "widens" it to allow for a man. As Nancy Chodorow observes, "[A] girl develops important Oedipal attachments to her mother as well as to her father" (127). The drama of High Heels enacts this move by cementing mother and lover in Dominguez (a man attached to his own mother).

It further complicates this odd arrangement by implying that Dominguez may be gay (given his penchant for drag, and his mother's mention of AIDS). That he chooses a female love object (in Rebecca) is not entirely incompatible with that reading. For, as Kaja Silverman has remarked (in paraphrasing Marcel Proust), "[T]here are two broad categories of homosexuals—those who can love only men, and those who can love lesbian women as well as men" as both occupy a same-sex "feminine psychic position" (381). Interestingly, such homosexuals identify strongly with their mothers—enclosing "a woman's soul . . . in a man's body" (Silverman, 339–88). For Lethal, that soul spills over onto his exterior, in the form of his female attire. Within this framework, Rebecca is a repressed lesbian—a woman who can only want a man who appears to be a woman—the primal woman at that. For Marsha Kinder, Rebecca's conduited maternal desire is liberatory: "This film . . . boldly proclaims that mother love lies at the heart of all melodrama and its erotic excess" (1992, 40).

The film further investigates the problematic rapport between mother and daughter. If Rebecca is haunted by a nostalgia for the Imaginary, so is Becky (whose signature torch song is entitled "You'll Recall "). She returns to Madrid specifically to acquire the basement flat in which she was raised. At the end of the film the two women's regressions merge. As Becky lies in her childhood apartment dying, Rebecca pulls the curtains of the high window that faces the street above. As pedestrians stroll by, she watches their legs and feet. She remembers how, as a child, when Becky went out, she would anxiously await the sound of her mother's high-heeled footsteps returning (hence, the literal title of the film: Distant Heels ).

Though this scene is poignant, it is undercut by earlier parodic moments of the film. Within the context of the myriad "perversions" the text invokes (patricide, transvestitism, incest), the notion of foot fetishism unavoidably comes to mind—a syndrome signaled in the work's title. For Freud, this symptomology is tied to the young boy's shock at seeing his mother's lack of a penis. As Freud notes, "[W]hat is possibly the last impression received before the uncanny traumatic one is preserved as a fetish. Thus the foot or shoe owes its attraction as a fetish . . . to the circumstance that the inquisitive boy used to peer up the woman's legs towards her genitals" (217). In High Heels , Lethal's platform shoes are very visible in his cabaret number—an act that imagines a mother with a penis. And, when he and Rebecca


make love in his dressing room, she is afraid to jump from the rafters because she is wearing high heels. These ironic moments (involving shoes) "infect" the denouement, giving Rebecca's yearning for her mother's footsteps a masculine and "unnatural" cast. Significantly, she looks up, from a basement window, at people walking by on the street—as though to literalize Freud's vision of the male fetishist-to-be, gazing up women's skirts.

Given Becky's desire to return home, Rebecca's melancholy and nostalgic angst seem a remake of her parent's—adding to the problematic tendentious portrayal of mother-daughter symbiosis. But Rebecca is a replicant on more levels than one. Her name seems a variant of her mother's: hence "Re-Becca" remakes "Becky." She marries her mother's former lover and then considers wedding her mother's male doppelgänger. Furthermore, during the course of the film, Rebecca becomes pregnant (by her maternal look-alike), thus approaching the matrilineal position herself. Hence, within the film, "the reproduction of mothering" goes berserk. But its vertiginous chain of duplication should not surprise us, for, as Hutcheon notes, "commitment to doubleness or duplicity" is a benchmark of postmodernism. High Heels engages this trope both within the style and thematics of the film: it is a remake about the process of remaking.

Polymorphous Perverse

The postfeminist play with gender in which differences are elided can easily lead us back into our "pregendered" past where there was only the universal subject—man.
Tania Modleski, Feminism Without Women

While the mutable world of postmodernism has been applauded in some critical circles and heralded for its progressive thrust (Hutcheon, 141–68), in other arenas it has been treated with suspicion. Feminists have been loathe to relinquish the category of "woman" for fear that the act subverts their analysis of patriarchal culture. E. Ann Kaplan notes that "much of what people celebrate as liberating in . . . postmodernism is . . . an attempt to sidestep the task of working through the constraining binary oppositions, including sexual difference" (43). And Barbara Creed observes that the "postmodern fascination with the . . . 'neuter' subject may indicate a desire not to address problems associated with the specificities of the oppressive gender roles of patriarchal society, particularly those constructed for women" (66).[8]

It is clear how this debate might inform the case of High Heels . It is a film that, no doubt, entails gender fluidity, but (we might inquire) fluidity for whom? Ultimately, it is man who has that prerogative, not woman. Almodovar can dabble in the "woman's picture." Dominguez can imitate a


female. And Chon can "become" one. The only hint of movement in the opposite direction is the androgynous demeanor of Marisa Paredes as Becky. But what she resembles is not so much a man, as a man impersonating a woman—like Dominguez as Lethal. Hence, what passes for difference is, ultimately, the same—like Luce Irigaray's notion of the Freudian "Dream of Symmetry."[9] B. Ruby Rich makes a similar point in her observations on postmodernism: "In all the talk about transvestitism and transsexualism there's little acknowledgment that even the world of gender-bending is male dominated—it's just that here men rule in the guise of women" (73).

There is also a fetishistic strain to High Heels that works against the film's claims for an unconventional vision of sexuality (despite Kinder's deeming such fetishism "fetching" [1992, 41]). Aside from shoes, the theme privileges the prop of earrings: pendulous objects seen to hang from a women's body, as though in "compensation" for that which does not . In the opening scene of the film, as Rebecca awaits Becky's arrival, she remembers that her mother bought her earrings on a childhood trip. We learn that they were made of horn—a substance associated with male animals. It is this jewelry that Rebecca fondles and wears on the day of her mother's return—that gets tangled in Becky's hair. Later, when Rebecca takes her mother to the nightclub, Lethal and Becky exchange mementos: she donates one of her earrings (a stand-in for the lost penis) and he offers one of his "tits." In the later scene of Becky performing on stage, she wears huge, dangling earrings that graze her shoulders. In all these cases, Becky seems linked to a fetishistic object that "substitutes" for the male genitalia. This bespeaks a masculine view of woman as signifying a distressing, physiological "lack." Only a man like Dominguez (in drag) can constitute a woman who is "fully equipped."

Rebecca, too, seems haunted by a phallic lack, which is overcome by her appropriation of a gun (a familiar symbol). In the film's opening credits, drawings of high heels and guns are juxtaposed—linking the two fetishistic items. Furthermore, a Sight and Sound cover (announcing a review of High Heels inside) reads "Almodovar's Stiletto Heels"—again coupling shoes with a phallic weapon (this time a knife). Significantly, Rebecca hides the gun in the chair in which Manuel used to sit—emphasizing the physical and semiotic proximity of the firearm and the phallus. It is this gun that she delivers to the dying Becky, so that her mother might mark it with her own fingerprints and false guilt.

In forcing the gun on Becky, she turns the latter into the archetypal Phallic Mother—a classic figment of the male child's imagination. Sigmund Freud referred to this fantasy in 1928, while discussing the fetishist's inability to accept his mother's genital "omission." But, in discussing this phenomenon, Freud implies that the fabrication is present in normal masculine development. As he notes, "[T]he fetish is a substitute of the . . . (mother's)


phallus which the little boy once believed in and does not wish to forego" (215). Thus, Rebecca is placed in the position of a "transvestite" daughter—whose psychic essence is male. Obviously, she finds the ultimate Phallic Mother in Lethal and his masquerade as Becky.

Clearly, this fantasy is equally powerful for Dominguez, who, in his role as cross-dresser, makes a similar maternal disavowal (Kulish, 394). His problematic relation to his own bedridden mother surfaces in scenes in which he is depicted in her home. The narrative context is unclear, but it is entirely possible that they still live together.

But need the fetishistic drift of the film be read as masculine? While some feminists have raised the possibility of female fetishism, it bears a different cast than the male variety. In an article on lesbianism, Elizabeth A. Grosz makes the point that, rather than disavowing the "castration" of their mothers, young girls may deny their own (47). It is this disavowal that is translated into female fetishism. The "narcissistic" woman may compensate for her own perceived "lack" by vainly making a fetish object of herself (through excessive costume, makeup, jewelry, etc.). The "hysterical" woman will compensate by selecting a part of her body for fetishistic "disabling" (e.g., paralysis). The "masculine" woman will dissociate herself from femininity by seeking out women with whom she can act "like a man" (47–52). None of these cases of alleged female fetishism are dominant in High Heels —where women are linked to phallic objects—a configuration more closely tied to men.

Significantly, we find the same male bias in the writing of a critic who pioneered discussions of transvestitism and film: Parker Tyler. In Screening the Sexes , he sees male cross-dressing as replicating the symbolism of sexual intercourse, which he describes from a masculine perspective: "When, with the surrogate of his penis, a man penetrates a woman, he wears her body . The penis dons the vagina via the vulva and wears the womb as a headdress. . . . In dynamic terms a curious kind of transsexuality has taken place" (217).

Hence, male cross-dressing is appropriate, as he already "wears [a woman's] body" (like some hatted Ziegfeld girl) in coitus. (In the world of the 1990s, the notion of a man "wearing" woman's body has disturbing associations to The Silence of the Lambs [1991]). When Tyler talks of conception, his metaphors are somewhat modified: "In 'planting the tree' of his body, the male transplants it . . . duplicates his own penis in the opposite direction. . . . [T]he woman, as the penetrated one, herself senses this exchange of penis orientation as a transference, or 'transvestitism.' Hence at the crux of the act of potency, she becomes the penised one and, as such, one who wears, has donned her own vagina" (217–18).

Thus, it is only through access to man's penis that the woman can "wear" her own organs—which are, otherwise, worn by him.

In many ways, High Heels replicates Parker's scenario. It is Dominguez


who makes love to and "wears" Rebecca's vagina in the dressing room of the club in which he cross-dresses. It is he who will later implant his "tree" and "seed" in her—thus, "permitting" her to wear her own sexuality.


The writer is someone who plays with his mother's body . . . in order to glorify it, to embellish it, or in order to dismember it.
Roland Barthes, quoted in Susan Suleiman, Subversive Intent

Clearly, High Heels remakes Imitation and the star scandal surrounding it. But how does it reproduce motherhood? Elsewhere, I have shown how the Sirk film charts the impossibility of female parenting: if Lora is damned as uncaring, Annie is guilty of overprotecting; if Lora is faulted for putting profession before home, Annie is chastened for making a career of domesticity. While the narrative begins by establishing Annie and Lora as good versus bad mothers, it ends by equalizing them in failure (Fischer, 1991A, 14–21). Whenever the women have troubles with their daughters, Steve steps in. When Lora departs on a film shoot, Steve is left in charge of entertaining Susie. When Annie wishes to pursue Sarah Jane, Steve makes the travel arrangements. "It's so nice to have a man around the house . . ."

While this masculine takeover is subtle in Imitation , it is strident in High Heels , which adopts (what we might deem) a "postfemale" stance. Clearly, this position requires the figure of Dominguez—a man who imitates and supplants a woman. Jean Baudrillard has argued that "[t]he strength of the feminine is that of seduction " (1990, 7, my italics). This act is based on "artifice" and stands in opposition to the masculine reality principle. As he writes, "The only thing truly at stake" in seduction "is mastery of the strategy of appearances, against the force of being" (1990, 10). If femininity is associated with surface (as distinct from masculine "depth"), it follows that the female body holds no particular truth or weight. As Baudrillard states, seduction knows "that there is no anatomy  . . . that all signs are reversible" (1990, 10). According to this logic, the transvestite (like Lethal) becomes the ultimate "woman" because of his exaggerated play with the codes of femininity: "What transvestites love is this game of signs, . . . with them everything is makeup, theater, and seduction" (1990, 12–13). While championing this mimicry, Baudrillard admits that it may bear a critical tone: "The seduction . . . is coupled with a parody in which an implacable hostility to the feminine shows through and which might be interpreted as a male appropriation of the panoply of female allurements" (1990, 14). In High Heels , this translates into a cruel joke on the negation of anatomy as destiny.

Beyond valorizing a postfemale world, High Heels offers a "post-maternal "


one—envisioning a universe in which men (like Dominguez) make the best Moms (as Tootsie once made the best feminist). For, it is he who functions as maternal hero(ine) or surrogate mom—a role vacated by Becky through her parental ineptitude. It is he who loves and comforts the hysterical Rebecca, who arranges for a rapprochement within her family, who finesses her release from jail, who bares the maternal "breast" (albeit a "falsie"). Meanwhile, all that Becky manages is to reproduce her neuroses in her daughter and to visit her maternal sins upon her child.

Hence what we find in High Heels is the kind of questionable "male mothering" so prevalent in contemporary cinema—a phenomenon that I have critiqued elsewhere (Fischer, 1991B).[10] While, superficially, this trope seems to express a benign male nurturant impulse—it arises at the expense of woman—causing her to feel a monumental postpartum depression.

In writing on the film, Kinder notes that Almodovar's project began as a narrative about two sisters who kill their mother. In Kinder's interview with him, Almodovar claims that "[w]hen you kill the mother, you kill precisely everything you hate, all of those burdens that hang over you" [1987, 43]). While Kinder admits the misogyny of Almodovar's abandoned scenario, she sees the final film as an "inversion" of that paradigm, in which "the . . . goal [is] no longer to destroy the maternal but . . . to . . . empower it" (1992, 39). Elsewhere, I have used the term "matricide" for the male diegetic appropriation of maternal space ("Sometimes"). Unlike Kinder, I find it applicable to the fate of Becky in High Heels —a fate that indicates a return to Almodovar's original theme. For, Becky's demise seems linked as much to Lethal's "voodoo" replacement of her as to Rebecca's heinous behavior. As Baudrillard observes, "To seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself as illusion" (1990, 69). As Becky expires, Lethal triumphs as the seductive maternal imago.

In cataloging various attacks on postmodernism, Hutcheon notes that its contradictory and multifarious discourse has been found "empty at the center " by critics who decry the vacuity of its myriad interpretive scenarios (38).[11] This image of the void might well apply to Dominguez—who can emulate the maternal surface but never be "fully equipped" at the maternal core or corps. It might also to apply to Almodovar, who "empties" Imitation of its maternal weight.

Curiously, for Baudrillard, it is masculinity that is aligned with "production" and femininity with its absence: "All that is produced, be it the production of woman as female, falls within the register of masculine power. The only and irresistible power of femininity is the inverse power of seduction" (1990, 15).

What this vision accomplishes is to deny any mode of female agency. It negates production as maternal reproduction —once again declaring woman's


body null and void. Furthermore, it deems man (like Adam) the creator of "woman as female"—leaving her entirely out of the semiological and biological loop.

One suspects that Almodovar chose the name "Femme Lethal" to highlight the cultural cliché of the femme fatale. (Since High Heels invokes film noir, this archetype is especially apt.)[12] According to Mary Ann Doane, the stereotype arose with the Industrial Revolution—at "the moment when the male seems to lose access to the body which the woman then comes to overrepresent " (1991, 2). By 1991, however, the female is underrepresented, and her being subsumed by the allegedly "disembodied" male. For Doane, the femme fatale is "the antithesis of the maternal—sterile or barren, . . . produc[ing] nothing in a society which fetishizes production" (1991, 2). In this sense, the figure finds her true incarnation in the corpus manquée of Lethal. Hence, while Almodovar (in feminist drag) may have meant to mock female stereotypes with the name "Femme Lethal," we can also read his epithet "against the grain." Perhaps it reveals that the postmodern posture may be "lethal" to the women who deem it progressive, who are "seduced" by it. Doane wisely remains skeptical of the femme fatale as a "resistant" figure: "[I]t would be a mistake to see her as some kind of heroine of modernity. She is not the subject of feminism but a symptom of male fears about feminism" (1991, 2–3).

Elaine Showalter once observed that "[a]cting as a woman . . . is not always a tribute to the feminine" (138). Ultimately, what is "under cover" in High Heels is not only a male judge but a male judgment latent in the euphoric "polymorphous perversity" of the postmodern pose.

Works Cited

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Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.

Baudrillard, Jean. "The Ecstasy of Communication." In The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. by Hal Foster. Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983: 125–134.

———. Seduction. Translated by Brian Singer. N.p.: Editions Galilée, 1979; New York: St. Martin's, 1990.

Bell-Mettereau, Rebecca. Hollywood Androgyny. New York: Columbia, 1985.

Butler, Judith. "Lana's 'Imitation': Melodramatic Repetition and the Gender Performative." Genders, no. 9 (fall 1990): 1–18.

Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978.

Collins, James. "Postmodernism and Cultural Practice." Screen 28, no. 2 (spring 1987): 11–26.

Creed, Barbara. "From Here to Modernity: Feminism and Postmodernism." Screen 28, no. 2 (spring 1987): 47–67.

Doane, Mary Ann. Femmes Fatales: Feminism, Film Theory and Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1991.

———. "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator." In Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, edited by Patricia Erens, 41–57. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Ebert, Roger. "Story Looks Stylish in High Heels. " Chicago Sun Times, 20 December 1991, p. 44.

Fassbinder, Rainer Werner. "Six Films by Douglas Sirk." Translated by Thomas Elsaessar. Excerpted in Fischer, Imitation of Life, 244–249.

Fischer, Lucy, ed. Imitation of Life. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

———. "'Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child': Comedy and Matricide." In Comedy, Cinema, Theory, edited by Andrew S. Horton, 60–78. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.

Freud, Sigmund. "Fetishism." In Sexuality and the Psychology of Love, edited by Philip Rieff, 214–9. New York: Colliers, 1974.

Grosz, Elizabeth A. "Lesbian Fetishism?" differences 3, no. 2 (summer 1991): 39–54.

Hurst, Fannie. Imitation of Life. New York: Collier and Son, 1933.


Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Translated by Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 11–240.

Johnston, Claire. "Femininity and the Masquerade: Anne of the Indies ." In Psychoanalysis and Cinema, edited by E. Ann Kaplan, 64–72. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Kaplan, E. Ann, ed. Postmodernism and its Discontents. London: Verso, 1988.

Kehr, David. "Almodovar Takes a Melodramatic Turn in High Heels ." Chicago Tribune, 20 December 1991, p. F7.

Kinder, Marsha. "High Heels. " Film Quarterly 45, no. 3 (spring 1992): 39–44.

———. "Pleasure and the New Spanish Mentality: A Conversation with Pedro Almodovar." Film Quarterly 41, no. 1 (fall 1987): 33–44.

Kroker, Arthur, and David Cook. The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics. New York: St. Martin's, 1986.

Kulish, Nancy Mann. "Gender and Transference: The Screen of the Phallic Mother." International Review of Psychoanalysis 13 (1986): 393–404.

McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987.

Modleski, Tania. Feminism without Women: Culture and Criticism in a 'Postmodernist' Age. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Morgan, Rikki. "Dressed to Kill." Sight and Sound 1, no. 12 (1992): 28–9.

Rich, B. Ruby. "Gender Bending." Mirabella, December 1992, 71–75.

Showalter, Elaine. "Critical Cross-Dressing and the Woman of the Year." Raritan (fall 1983): 130–49.

Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Stern, Michael. "Imitation of Life. " In Fischer (1991): 279–88.

Straayer, Chris. "Redressing the 'Natural': The Temporary Transvestite Film." Wide Angle 14, no. 1 (1992): 36–55.

Straub, Kristina. "Feminist Politics and Postmodernist Style." In Image and Ideology in Modern/Postmodern Discourse, edited by David B. Downing and Susan Bazargan, 273–86. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

Suleiman, Susan. Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Thompson, David. "High Heels. " Sight and Sound 1, no. 12 (1992): 61–2.

Tyler, Parker. Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972.


Feminist Makeovers:
The Celluloid Surgery of Valie Export and Su Friedrich

Chris Holmlund

What constitutes a remake? How far, and in what ways, can the boundaries of "remake" be stretched, "made over," before a new "original" emerges? What, in particular, can be made of experimental film's fondness for recycling fragments of sounds, images, and story lines from earlier movies of all kinds? In this age of mechanical reproduction and celluloid surgery, are there any essential elements that allow us definitively to distinguish a remake from an original? Or are there just spare parts?

Marjorie Garber's discussions of the ways transsexuals, transvestites, and makeup or makeover artists trouble gender categories seem analogous. She finds the case of Renée Richards, born Dick Raskind, particularly instructive, though she is also intrigued by the transformations of cultural icons like Michael Jackson. With Renée, "it is the cutting off, by surgery, of the name and identity of 'Dick'—in effect the quintessential penectomy, the amputation of male subjectivity—that enables the rebirth of Renée" (Garber, 1992, 104). Yet for all the hormone injections, electrolysis, implants, amputations, and more, surely somewhere within Renée "Dick" lives on.[1] And even though everyone agrees that, despite plastic surgery, powder, and makeup, Michael is still Michael, he looks more and more like Diana Ross and more and more white.[2] Indeed, the controversy around Michael's hit single "Black or White" was generated as much by the man as by his message: "I'm not going to spend my life just being a color."

Such controversy is not surprising: artificial alternations of gender, sexuality, and race like those practiced by Renée Richard and suspected of Michael Jackson are hotly debated. Horrified if titillated talk-show audiences protest such changes are both against nature and anti-social; cultural critics gleefully proclaim surgical modifications cut away at and/or reshape privileges predicated on visible—and not so visible—differences. To


my knowledge, however, as yet no one has combined these arguments with questions about the status of experimental makeovers vis-à-vis Hollywood or experimental film originals.

In order to examine celluloid surgery together with plastic surgery, therefore, I want to compare two experimental films by Valie Export and Su Friedrich with the two mainstream originals they make over. What each borrows, and how and why it borrows it, varies, but both manage to blur the boundaries separating film from literature, painting, sculpture, and video by chopping up earlier cinematic sources, then stitching them together with yet other material. In the process, I will argue, each creates films that jeopardize "natural" or "essential" definitions of gender, sexual preference, or race.

Valie Export works within and against a range of philosophical, literary, and artistic traditions. Since the 1960s she has explored several different media and written a number of critical articles and books about her own and others' work. The director of several short and three feature films,[3] Export is best known in Austria and elsewhere as a feminist performance artist practicing what she calls "action art." No matter what medium she uses, however, she is always concerned with the impact of gender on art and art on gender. Her first feature, Invisible Adversaries (Unsichtbare Gegner , 1976), has been called a feminist Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel, 1956, and Kaufman, 1978).[4] But Export's film contains more than one makeover: there are several references to Buñuel and Dali's 1929 An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou ),[5] to famous paintings, and to Export's own previous performance pieces. As a result, Invisible Adversaries is visually rich, entertaining, striking, but also demanding.

Su Friedrich's experimental narrative films are more accessible, though equally transgressive. Primarily a filmmaker, with a long list of shorts and several full-length films to her name,[6] Friedrich has a history of involvement with the New York experimental and feminist art worlds. She describes herself as a lesbian-feminist-experimental filmmaker who reaches various audiences by what she calls "ghetto hopping."[7] But though Friedrich speaks from and for several at times overlapping, at times disparate, positions, her work has consistently been concerned with contesting heterosexual assumptions and broadening what is seen and desired as "lesbian."[8] Nowhere is this truer than in the 1987 Damned If You Don't , with its reframing of Powell and Pressburger's 1946 acclaimed melodrama, Black Narcissus , and lesbian feminist written and oral histories.

From different angles, then, both these experimental makeovers snip away at sources and clip up centers, demonstrating in the process that "new definitions of identity, the subject, gender [and I would add sexual and racial] roles and reality . . . are a possible consequence of the age of electronic signs" (Export, 1992, 27). I will explore in conclusion just what these


new definitions of identity, roles, and reality may be and ask one last time whether there are any essential elements, or just spare parts, in cinema or society.

Of Clones and Men:
Invasion of The Body Snatchers and Invisible Adversaries

Thanks to technology, which transforms and dissolves the body itself, "man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God," says Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents. But, asks Valie Export in "The Real and Its Double: The Body,"[9] does Freud mean man in the generic or the specific sense, or both? What of woman?

Invisible Adversaries offers partial, and contradictory, answers to these questions as it rewrites and transforms Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers through cinematic injections, implants, alterations, and amputations. Both films share the same narrative premise: aliens from outer space have invaded and are replacing human beings. They are so successful that real people are almost indistinguishable from clones, called "pods" in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and "hyksos" in Invisible Adversaries. Both movies weave love stories together with this basic invasion plot. Both indict authority figures like psychiatrists and policemen for collaborating with and even becoming the enemy, and both suggest mass communication networks distort as much as they report. A strong fear of totalitarianism thus subtends both narratives, though what constitutes totalitarianism differs. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is typically discussed with reference to communism, McCarthyism and/or fascism,[10] whereas Invisible Adversaries targets the Austrian right and center left, naming the neo-Nazis and the SPO (Austrian Socialist Party) while, more broadly, linking Western governments to imperialist wars.[11]

Nevertheless, unlike the 1979 Hollywood version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invisible Adversaries cannot really be called a remake. In her descriptions of her film, Export never mentions Siegel's movie, though neither does she comment on the plethora of other visual and written citations she cuts into and adds onto the "main" hyksos story.[12] Critics, too, often overlook the similarities between Invisible Adversaries and Invasion of the Body Snatchers ,[13] in part because Invasion of the Body Snatchers is carefully structured,[14] whereas, as Marita Sturken says, the "'hyksos' plot . . . gets rapidly lost in the experimental vignettes" (Sturken, 1981, 18). Export alters her protagonist's gender and occupation from male small town doctor to female big city photojournalist. The relative importance accorded psychoanalysis and the mass media shifts in consequence, and the meanings assigned to voyeurism and paranoia within the film's visual and audial structures, vary as a result as well.


The misogynist gender politics of Invasion of the Body Snatchers , like its antitotalitarian stance, remain for the most part below the surface. Yet for Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) the ultimate moment of terror is linked to the absence of female passion: hiding from the pods in a cave with his fiancée (Dana Wynter), he kisses her and she does not respond. From the time and space of the film's frame story, set in a mental institution, he confesses in voice-over, "I'd been afraid a lot of times in my life, but I'd never known the real meaning of fear until I kissed Becky. A moment's sleep and the girl I loved was an inhuman enemy bent on my destruction."[15]

Invisible Adversaries , in contrast, begins by highlighting the importance of gender and leftist politics to its narrative, while expressly calling attention to the roles played by mass media and art in modern society in general and 1970s Vienna in particular.[16] In the first sequence, a male broadcaster warns through static of an invasion by alien hyksos: "Anyone can be a hyksos and not know it. You are contagious. You are alone." The other news items he reports are factual, yet they too revolve around violence, aggression, and contagion. The camera zooms in to a close-up of a newspaper headline with the film's title, then pans the body of a sleeping woman, and finally moves out her apartment window to scan the rooftops of Vienna. At one point, another male voice interrupts the first to quote action artist Georges Mathieu. The voice thereby provides an explanation for the hyksos's presence (radiation) while describing their mission (the destruction of the earth).[17]

It is as if Export had amputated the first two-thirds of Siegel's narrative. She begins with the last third of his film, with much of the world already under hyksos control. She also performs a kind of cinematic sex change on Invasion of the Body Snatchers , rewriting it from Becky's point of view at the very moment when she is about to mutate. The film style is correspondingly chaotic, with jump cuts, 360-degree pans and elaborate montage sequences suggesting disturbance and alienation, perhaps even translating the trauma of the cinematic alterations. Siegel's film, in contrast, is characterized by straightforward point-of-view shots and subtle cinematographic hints of abnormality.[18]

What are the implications for gendered subjectivity when faced with the cutting room floor?[19] Repeatedly Export asks whether it is possible that women in general, and the protagonist Anna (Susanne Widl) in particular, have always been hyksos, never humans? The second sequence certainly suggests as much, showing Anna framed in a doorway, then framed and reflected in a mirror. Her reflection takes on a life of its own, applying lipstick as she watches. Fascinated and horrified by what she has seen in the mirror and heard on the radio, Anna sets out to observe and document her own, her lover Peter's (Peter Weibel), and others' transformations into aliens.


Since Anna is a photographer and video artist, her voyeurism is, quite literally, mediated. Newspapers, photography, video, film, tape recorders, and radio serve as her allies and tools, not—or not primarily, as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers —as her enemies. Miles's voyeurism is, in contrast, direct. He relies on the naked eye, peering into or from windows at his nurse as she prepares to turn a crying baby into a peaceful pod, or down on the triangular town "square" where the aliens have assembled to carry out the takeover of surrounding communities.

With her media helpers Anna finds, and fashions, doubles everywhere. In a videotape entitled "Silent Language," she examines women's body language in art and daily life, documenting a lack of change from Renaissance paintings to the present: Michelangelo's Pietà , for instance, dissolves into a woman holding a vacuum cleaner. Later she runs around cardboard cutouts of people she has placed beside a fountain in a plaza, then, back home, outlines her silhouetted reflection in pins on a wall. A larger-than-life-size photo of herself, hair slicked back rather than down, decorates her refrigerator; inside is a kind of future "double," a baby.

For all Anna's and Invisible Adversaries ' emphasis on female doubles, however, the central question Anna asks in one of her tapes, "When is a human being a woman?" is never clearly answered, either in her own videos or photographs or in the film itself.[20] Caught in a web of representations, woman is always a body determined by others: "the natural body of the woman doesn't exist" (Export, 1988, 7). Yet woman is not just a body. As Export says in "The Real and Its Double," woman "views her own body from outside as alien. . . . The ontological experiencing of the body by woman is the simultaneous experiencing of the personal and the alien" (1988, 12–13). Woman is both split and doubled, simultaneously subject and object, eye and "I."

Throughout the film the schizophrenia of Anna's positioning as both hyksos and Anna, alien object and alienated subject, is made visible on and through the body. Overcome by angst after talking to Peter about the spread of the hyksos, she slides down the glass walls of a phone booth. In the street she rearranges herself to fit her environment, wrapping herself around a curb, or cramming herself into corners. At home she suddenly starts to shake. A bit later she unpacks her groceries and starts to cook, only to have a rat run across the table, then a live bird and fish appear. In a rapid and highly surreal montage sequence she decapitates these animals one after another, then goes to the bathroom to photograph feces floating in the toilet, develops the pictures, and finally goes to bed.

Many of these sequences recreate Export's performance pieces from 1972–76, described as "the pictorial representations of mental states, with the sensations of the body when it loses its identity" (Hofmann and Hollein, 1980, 13). An early dream sequence, for example, implants one of her 1972


explorations of the physical and emotional effects of bodily constraints into the "main" hyksos narrative.[21] A screen with black-and-white images of Anna wearing ice skates and walking through Vienna appears over color images of her sleeping. In the black-and-white film the scene changes with each step, echoing the nonsensical temporal and spatial editing of An Andalusian Dog , as also Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. At the end of Invisible Adversaries Anna enacts another piece from this same set of experiments, going to bed in a mountaineering outfit, woolen hat, gloves, and boots as the radio recounts still more tales of violence and horror.

By stitching this particular performance piece into the main film body, Export makes it clear that the paranoia, angst, and isolation Anna experienced at the beginning of the film have worsened: no trace remains here of the final guarded optimism of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the psychiatrists finally believe Miles and call the FBI in to help. Instead invisible adversaries are everywhere, and they are both internal and external. Peter, Anna's leftist lover, grows increasingly hostile. "Women are parasites," he tells her at one point, to which she has a woman in her videotape respond, "Men are dwarves." The playfully perverse heterosexual sex we see so much of at the beginning of the film comes to seem threatening, especially since other couples around Peter and Anna quarrel and fight as well. Peter himself maintains love is worthless, impossible: "This disgusting longing for love is an emotional plague," he tells Anna; "love is a transparent prison." What he says echoes what the pod psychiatrist tells Miles in Invasion of the Body Snatchers: "Love, desire, ambition, faith—without them life is so simple. . . . There's no need for love. Love doesn't last."

In contrast to the relatively major part accorded Invasion 's psychiatrist, Anna's psychoanalyst plays a relatively minor role and appears only near the end of the film. He first suggests she have her eyes checked, then diagnoses her as schizophrenic and prescribes pills. The pictures Anna takes of him reveal he is a hyksos but, unlike Miles, Anna does not particularly care. The men and boys she encounters masturbating and fighting in the streets pose more serious threats to her psychic and physical well-being. These images are often intercut with newspaper, film, and TV images of rocket launchers, burning trucks, and napalmed children, effectively linking violence in the third world to violence in the first, and distancing Export's makeover still further from Siegel's original.

Near the end of Invisible Adversaries , Anna goes to see a war movie. "Help in the search!" ("Suchen Sie mit!"), urges the male narrator over the black-and-white and color images of destruction. Anna looks anxiously at herself and the audience in a pocket mirror. Siegel's film was to have ended similarly, with a close-up on Miles's frightened gaze as he tries to convince motorists on the L.A. freeway "You're next!" Whether or not Export is intentionally parodying Invasion of the Body Snatchers , her injection of yet another


film within her main film speaks not just to Anna, but also and more broadly to the spectator of Invisible Adversaries . Export's, Anna's, and other women's reflections on the position and positionings of women open outward, to include us as well.[22] "My visual art is for me a monologue . . . a dialogue with an invisible partner," says Anna in her videotape "When Is a Human Being a Woman?" Unlike Invasion, which encourages our identification by playing on our desire to see, or, better yet, by fueling "our urge to gain access to the meeting ground between the specular and the blind" (Telotte, 1990, 152), Invisible Adversaries proposes "an 'aesthetic of reception' . . . [wherein] [t]he signifying practices of cinema are deployed as an element of a de/re/construction not only of genre film, but also of its spectators. . . . [T]he film makes sense (narratively, technologically) only in feminist terms" (Cranny-Francis, 1990, 225).[23]

For all the implants and injections, amputations and alterations that characterize Export's self-reflexive celluloid surgery, however, her film doubles do not guarantee a way out of the double bind in which women find themselves in patriarchal cultures. Nevertheless these "stagings of the body" do make more obvious the extent to which woman is defined as body "by an alien ideology" (Export, 1992, 33). As Export says of feminist action art in general, "[O]nly knowledge prevents contagion" (1989, 73).

In her writing, Export recognizes that tapping the tendency of technology "to transform and dissolve the body itself" is risky: (1988, 2) in a world where woman equals body, "deconstructing the body can lead to extinction." Yet, she continues, "since . . . the increased prosthesis-like quality arises from the progress of civilization, we cannot refuse disembodiment" (1988, 17–18). In Invisible Adversaries she even has Anna devise her own prosthesis, cutting her pubic hair and using it as the basis of a temporary sex change wherein she makes herself over into a mustachioed man. For a moment, the artificiality of gender is very much apparent, as it is in An Andalusian Dog where, through the miracles of editing, a woman's armpit hair is transformed into a man's beard.

At times Anna's de- and reconstructions of femininity provide the basis for solidarity among women. At times they unsettle masculinity as well. But Anna's, and Export's, critiques of gender remain tenuous, hampered and hobbled, for, as Export says, "the battle of the sexes has always already been won by men" (1989, 72). Inevitably so, I would argue, since Export never broaches the question of homosexuality in Invisible Adversaries, even though heterosexuality is obviously in crisis.[24] As long as heterosexuality remains an uncopiable original, in trouble yet intact, what Marjorie Garber terms "the twin anxieties of technology and gender" (1992, 108) remain in place, and the dualistic or binary frame that positions women as irremediably inferior and inalterably Other survives and proliferates as well. Export's implants and additions may make us forget the amputations and subtractions


she performs on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and may thereby jeopardize the notions of cinematic or artistic original, but they stop short of demonstrating once and for all the constructedness of gender.

Much Ado about Nun-Things:
Black Narcissus and Damned If You Don't

By shifting the central organizing perspective of her science fiction film from male to female, Valie Export begins to "rewrite gender within genre" (White, 1987, 84). But, as Judith Butler argues, sex, gender and desire are not necessarily synonymous: "Gender can denote a unity of experience, of sex, gender and desire, only when sex can be understood in some sense to necessitate gender—where gender is a psychic and/or cultural designation of the self—and desre—where desire is heterosexual and therefore differentiates itself through an oppositional relation to that other gender it desires. . . . This conception of gender presupposes not only a causal relation among sex, gender, and desire, but suggests as well that gender reflects or expresses desire" (1990, 22).

As "the narrative form that takes desire as its subject" (Lang, 1989, 12), melodrama offers a more logical site than science fiction for cinematic investigations of the connections and disjunctures among sex, gender, and desire. Damned If You Don't, Su Friedrich's makeover (and more) of Black Narcissus, successfully adopts this strategy, highlighting how much Black Narcissus and melodrama in general are predicated on the assumption that all desire is heterosexual. Snipping up, then reconstructing Powell and Pressburger's original tragedy of unrequited (white) heterosexual love, madness, and death, Friedrich instead proposes a narrative with a happy ending for lesbians: for once the (Latina) girl, not the boy, gets the (white) girl, and no one dies or goes insane.[25] By the end of Damned If You Don't, lesbianism is no longer a sickly copy of a healthy heterosexual original. (See figure 26.)

The same spirit pervades both Black Narcissus and Damned If You Don't . Both make nuns the central characters of stories where, as Friedrich pointedly puts it, "the chaste are chased" (Hanlon, 1982–83, 81). Both are highly sensual, though, as Michael Powell says of Black Narcissus, "it is all done by suggestion" (1987, 584). Unlike Export, moreover, Friedrich is quite willing to acknowledge her debts to and appreciation of Black Narcissus, even as she manipulates and criticizes several of its basic premises. Like Export, she includes a variety of other material in her film, thereby altering the shape of the original.

But where Export's celluloid surgery of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is ongoing and multiple, Damned If You Don't' s relationship to Black Narcissus is like a single large implant: for the most part the Black Narcissus makeover is confined to the first eight minutes of Damned If You Don't, although a few



Figure 26.
Lovers embrace in Su Friedrich's  Damned If You Don't  (1987), a transgressive
retake on Powell and Pressburger's 1946 melodrama,  Black Narcissus .

Black Narcissus images reappear briefly at the end as well. Even within this implant, however, Friedrich sets other more minor alterations in motion, then further amplifies and modifies these alterations in the rest of the film. Cinematically, within the Black Narcissus sequence and indeed elsewhere as well, Damned If You Don't is more restrained than Black Narcissus, though no less compelling. Narratively, the two films differ in three key and overlapping areas: 1) how they portray the two lead female characters; 2) whether and how they represent male characters; and 3) how they inscribe racial and ethnic difference.

Rather than contrast virility and femininity, repression and expression, West and East as Powell and Pressburger do, Friedrich takes a different tack. For the most part Damned If You Don't excises Black Narcissus' imperialist fantasies. Gone are the lush but artificial settings created in British studios through matte shots, glass shots, and painted backdrops or, as in the case of the subtropical gardens filled with "cedars, deodars, rhododendrons and azaleas," literally transported from India to England by retired "merchant princes and pro-consuls" (Powell, 1987, 562).[26] Gone too is the incessant drumming of the natives, and gone is almost all reference to any "Indian"


characters. Except for one brief shot of Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and Kanchi (Jean Simmons), the "sexy little piece who attracts the eye of the young Prince" (Sabu) (Powell, 1987, 576),[27] the Malays, Indians, Gurkhas, Nepalese, Hindus, and Pakistanis Powell and Pressburger indiscriminately cast as Indians have been cut from Friedrich's film.[28] In the stripped-down, stitched-up version of Black Narcissus she offers, the principal characters are known only as the Good Nun (Deborah Kerr), the Bad Nun (Kathleen Byron), and Mr. Dean (David Farrar).

The offscreen female narrator of the Black Narcissus sequence (Martina Siebert) only mentions the Orient twice, in passing. Each time she mocks the racism signaled so blithely in the very title of Powell and Pressburger's film: "Black Narcissus" is the name of the cheap perfume the young prince wears.[29] In Black Narcissus the young prince proudly tells the nuns his perfume comes from the Army Navy Stores of London. "I'll call him Black Narcissus," Sister Ruth, the Bad Nun, says when he leaves. "He's so vain, like a peacock. A fine black peacock." "He's not black," another nun replies. "They all look alike to me," Sister Ruth retorts.

In Damned If You Don't, in contrast, Siebert's offbeat voice-over—which includes, for example, such lines as "[the nuns] forgive [Mr. Dean] for arriving naked, given the state of emergency"—makes the melodrama she recounts seem more like a comedy. Rather than talk of the need to "humanize" the natives, as Mr. Dean and the nuns do, Siebert says flippantly that the nuns "work hard, day and night, bringing aspirin and the English language to Indian peasants." The flatness of her delivery detracts from any exoticism that might attach to her German accent. She also directly links racism to sexism: "[The Good Nun] asks [Mr. Dean] why the local people can't be more disciplined, which somehow raises the question of whether or not she likes children." The Black Narcissus sequence she refers to is more overtly racist, but it disguises sexism as flirtation: wearing shorts, a shirt, and a hat, Mr. Dean crosses and uncrosses his hairy legs and glances "meaningfully" at Sister Clodagh, all the while insisting that the "natives" are "primitive people . . . like children, primitive children."

At only one moment does Friedrich incorporate text from Black Narcissus . The Good Nun says, "If you have a spark of decency left in you, you won't come near us again." Then Friedrich interrupts Siebert's narration to sing Mr. Dean's song herself: "No I won't be a nun, no I shall not be a nun, for I am so fond of pleasure, I cannot be a nun." The pastiche is doubly gender bending: first, because a man sings a song "only" a woman should sing since "only" women can be nuns;[30] second, because a woman, Friedrich, sings a song "originally" sung by a man. Only at the end of the segment do we hear Mr. Dean himself sing the song. Now, however, he does so over medium two-shots of the Good and the Bad Nuns. (See figure 27.)



Figure 27.
The nun in Su Friedrich's experimental makeover,  Damned If
You Don't
 (1987), raises questions of identity and gender.

Friedrich performs other more minor surgical operations on her eight-minute Black Narcissus segment as well. Roll bars flicker across the screen since she has taken the images from a television broadcast without standardizing them to film. Periodic cutaways show a woman who will become one of the main characters of Friedrich's primary narrative (Ela Troyano) pouring herself a glass of wine, then settling in to watch Powell and Pressburger's film on TV, and finally falling asleep.

Friedrich's reshaping of the Black Narcissus implant leaves no doubt about what the lesbian character of her main narrative finds to like in Powell and Pressburger's melodrama. She abbreviates and reframes several shots in order to insist on the exchanges of looks between the Good Nun and the Bad Nun. As a result, the force of their desire and rivalry for Mr. Dean imperceptibly acquires another, lesbian, layer.[31] As Martha Gever says, Friedrich "tells . . . the story of passionate relationships between women within the film's male-centered narrative—by concentrating on the key moments in the rivalry between two female characters" (1988, 16). With the amputation of Kanchi and the young general from the Black Narcissus segment, happy heterosexual love disappears entirely from Damned If You Don't,


leaving only what Friedrich calls "the sexual hysteria at the core of the film" (MacDonald, 1992, 304).

In the final analysis, however, Friedrich's makeover is more a reverent restatement than an outright rejection, as much the enhancement of secondary celluloid characteristics as the castration of primary ones. Friedrich says she appreciates, for example, "the really high drama of Black Narcissus . . . . Powell and Pressburger used lighting to such great effect and created a lot of expression in the faces, which is all you have to work with when you're dealing with characters who are completely covered" (MacDonald, 1992, 304). Damned If You Don't translates this drama into its own terms, using black and white instead of color. For the most part, Friedrich's reconstruction of Black Narcissus refuses the canted angles, extreme long shots, dramatic framing, superimpositions, dissolves, and flashbacks of the original. Instead Friedrich insists on meter and tempo, editing "the rhythm of gestures within the shot . . . with the rhythm of the roll bars, [and] . . . the cadence of the speech at the moment" (MacDonald, 1992, 304–5).

Friedrich admits that "what I felt I was doing by beginning with the Black Narcissus material was saying, "Okay, you want a narrative, here, take it: you can have it. And you can have it just for its high points, you don't have to slog through all the bullshit, all the transitions" (MacDonald, 1992, 306). Yet Black Narcissus functions not only as hook but also as model for the rest of Damned If You Don't, in that Friedrich's film remains a dramatic narrative, though Friedrich adds "god forbid, a happy ending" (Friedrich, 1989–90, 123).

In many ways, therefore, Friedrich's implant of Black Narcissus becomes the basis for the new celluloid body that is Damned If You Don't . The woman (known only as the Other Woman) who watched Powell and Pressburger's film at the beginning of Damned If You Don't adapts elements from the former to fit her own devious designs. At one point she even buys a needle-point head of Christ as a gift for the next door neighbor, the Nun (Peggy Healey), whom she desires. Friedrich carries on Powell and Pressburger's emphases on framing and costuming as well, insisting as they do on the sensuality of spirituality. On an outing to the New York City Aquarium, for example, the Nun watches white whales swim within their tank. Her black robe and white face visually echo their white bodies on the black water. Later images of her in her tiny room or behind grillwork make it clear that she too is a prisoner. The Other Woman's restless movements, dark good looks and flamboyant clothes (black bolero pants, tight tops, a low-cut and diaphanous black party dress), offer a conspicuous contrast to the Nun and combine eroticism and exoticism just as Sister Ruth and especially Kanchi did in Black Narcissus .

Except for the offscreen voice of a priest, there are no male characters at all in the main story of Damned If You Don't . All the watching, all the


desiring that occurs in the constant shot/reverse shots, point-of-view shots and eyeline matches takes place between women. Finally the Nun gives in to desire and decides to love her neighbor as herself. The Other Woman slowly unveils her, and the two make love in silence—a major shift from Black Narcissus' operatic climax, where "music, emotions, images and voices are blended together into a new and splendid whole" (Powell, 1987, 583) as, mad with jealousy and grief because Mr. Dean has rejected her, Sister Ruth tries to kill Sister Clodagh by pushing her off a cliff. Instead she slips and falls to her death. The final credits of Friedrich's film unfold, appropriately enough, to the lascivious lyrics and raucous tune of Patti Smith's "Break It Up."

Two other subnarratives, both of which reinforce the main story's emphasis on the virtues of lesbian love, are grafted onto the sound track of Damned If You Don't . The first set of grafts is excerpted from Judith Brown's Immodest Acts , a study of a nun found guilty of "misconduct" in Renaissance Italy and imprisoned for thirty-five years in prison within her convent.[32] Friedrich also interrupts the first of the two selections she includes. An offscreen narrator (Cathy Quinlan) reads Sister Crivelli's testimony that, as she watched, Jesus removed Sister Benedetta's heart and replaced it with his own. Quinlan chuckles as she says, "How can I live without a heart now?" "Well, why not?" Friedrich's voice responds. Stepping completely out of character, Quinlan says, "You know what? I just had the funny idea that Sister Crivelli said this millions of times too. At a certain point she was just reading the fucking testimony." The second selection, which describes a series of lesbian sex acts in graphic detail, is uninterrupted.

By grafting sections from Immodest Acts onto and into her main story, Friedrich implicitly reclaims past lesbians for the present. Periodically, if more parenthetically, a second set of grafts tells of other lesbian love stories. At one point an anonymous voice on the sound track asserts that the nuns she had crushes on as a child were lesbians. Onscreen we see still other nuns framed in two-shots or three-shots. By association they too become lesbians, or at least potential lesbians.

Each and every element of Friedrich's film, including her implant of Black Narcissus , thus hints at the persistence of lesbian desire through time and across cultures, despite silencing and persecution. By the end of Damned If You Don't , heterosexual melodrama has, in effect, been "lesbianized." The moral of Friedrich's film is quite unequivocal: here you're only "damned if you don't."

But while the moral of Damned If You Don't is unequivocal, its address and its referents are not. Who is the "you" in the title? Who will be "damned if they don't?"[33] Only women? Only lesbians? Only white and Latina lesbians? Friedrich's decision to focus on the role played by sexuality in melodrama, like Export's decision to focus on the impact of gender on science


fiction, pushes questions of racial and ethnic difference to the background. Even though each acknowledges in passing that such differences exist—Friedrich through her ironic commentary about Black Narcissus and casting of Troyano and Healey; Export through the offscreen news stories and the documentary images of destruction and disaster in third world countries—"white" remains the dominant, and hence the invisible, color in both films.

In Stitches:
Cutting up As Serious Business

Both Export and Friedrich question profoundly what might constitute copy or serve as source. Though neither operates primarily on racial or ethnic differences, the celluloid surgeries both perform demonstrate the extent to which "the original, like the author and the real are themselves constituted as effects" (Butler, 1991, 146). Each stretches and pads, clips up, and cuts together more than one original. As a result, their fantasies, like Foucault's phantasms and, much earlier, Plato's "bad copies," "brea[k] down all adequation between copy and model, appearance and essence, event and Idea" (Young, 1991, 82).

Are there, then, any essential elements that might allow us to distinguish copy from original, makeover from model? Or are there just spare parts?

Of course more than textual politics is at stake in and around these films, for their indeterminate status as remakes or originals is matched by their offhand insistence on the ineffability of subjectivity. Since identity is predicated on difference, each film to some extent places identity in jeopardy because each, though differently, makes it difficult to see difference, and therefore difficult to tell the difference: in Export's case, between men, women, and hyksos; in Friedrich's case between nuns and lesbians. This does not mean, however, as Barbara Christian argues in another context about such postmodern politics, "that reality does not exist, that everything is relative, that every text is silent about something—which indeed it must necessarily be" (1990, 43). The point must also be made, I think, that since each film overlooks or downplays some differences, each leaves some identities untouched and intact. It is imperative we acknowledge, for example, that both these films leave race largely unexamined. We could, indeed we should, imagine makeovers of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Black Narcissus , or any one of a number of other Hollywood or experimental films, which would foreground and fragment the "security" of identities predicated on racial, ethnic, or national origins as well, much as Michael Jackson's multiple makeovers confuse neat categorizations not just of gender and sexuality but also of race and age.[34]

The extent to which identities are interlocking, not additive, and not


unitary, only emerges when the various celluloid surgeries these experimental filmmakers employ are evaluated each against the other, and both against still other films made from yet other political perspectives. Collective participation and cross-pollination are crucial. Abdul JanMohamed and David Lloyd put it well: "Just as it is vitally important to avoid the homogenization of cultural differences, so it is equally important to recognize the common basis of . . . struggle" (1990, 10).

The more serious question then, politically speaking, is not whether there are essential elements or just spare parts, but who asks such questions, how, and why. As critics, artists, and activists, then, let us openly acknowledge, eagerly expect, and diversely desire different answers.

Taken together, though, I would argue that these two films do begin to shake up "the inevitability of a symbolic order based on a logic of limits, margins, borders and boundaries" (Fuss, 1991, 1), even as they trouble an aesthetics of origins and a metaphysics of identity—at least where gender and sexuality are concerned. Given how much "the twin anxieties of visibility and difference  . . . mobilize . . . all of the culture's assumptions about normative sex and gender roles" (Garber, 1992, 130)—and, again, let us not forget race—it may be a very good thing, therefore, if what Marjorie Garber says of essential elements versus spare parts applies equally to cinema and to sex: "The boundary lines . . . never clear or precise . . . are not only being constantly redrawn but are also receding inward . . . away from the visible body and its artifacts" (1992, 108).

Thanks to Lucy Fischer, Chris Straayer, and Su Friedrich for their insightful suggestions for revision.

Works Cited

Biskind, Peter. "Pods, Blobs, and Ideology in American Films of the Fifties." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 185–197. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Braucourt, Guy. "Interview with Don Siegel." In Focus on the Science Fiction Film, edited by William Johnson, 74–77. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

Brown, Judith. Immodest Acts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

———. "Renaissance Lesbian Sexuality." Signs 9, no. 4 (summer 1984): 751–758.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Christian, Barbara. "The Race for Theory." In The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse, edited by Abdul JanMohamed and David Lloyd. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Couder, Martine. "Unsichtbare Gegner." Skrien Filmschrift 137 (September–October 1984): no page available.

Cranny-Francis, Anne. "Feminist Futures: A Generic Study." In Alien Zone, edited by Annette Kuhn, 219–228. London: Verso, 1990.

Export, Valie. "Aspects of Feminist Actionism." New German Critique 47 (spring-summer 1989): 69–92.

———. "Persona, Proto-Performance, Politics: A Preface." Discourse 14, no. 2 (spring 1992): 26–35.

———. "The Real and Its Double: The Body." Working Paper No. 7 (1988), Center for Twentieth-Century Studies: 1–20. Reprinted in Discourse 11, no. 1 (fall-winter 1988–89): 3–27.

Friedrich, Su. "Radical Form: Radical Content." Millenium Film Journal 22 (1989–1990): 118–123.

Fuss, Diana. "Inside/Out." In Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, edited by Diana Fuss, 1–12. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Garber, Marjorie. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Gever, Martha. "Girl Crazy." Film and Video Monthly 11, no. 6 (July 1988): 14–18.

Hanlon, Lindley. "Female Rage: The Films of Su Friedrich." Millenium Film Journal 12 (1982–1983): 79–86.

Hofmann, Werner, and Hans Hollein. Valie Export: Dokumentations-Ausstellung des Osterreichischen Beitrags zur Biennale Venedig 1980. Vienna: Bundesministerium für Unterricht und Kunst, 1980.

Holmlund, Chris. "Displacing Limits of Difference: Gender, Race, and Colonialism in Edward Said and Homi Bhabha's Theoretical Models and Marguerite Duras's


Experimental Films." Quarterly Review of Film Studies 13, no. 1–3 (May 1990): 1–22.

———. "Fractured Fairytales and Experimental Identities: Looking for Lesbians in and around the Films of Su Friedrich." Discourse 17, no. 1 (fall 1994): 16–46.

———. "When Is a Lesbian Not a Lesbian?: The Mainstream Femme Film and the Lesbian Continuum." Camera Obscura 25–26 (November 1991): 96–119.

JanMohamed, Abdul, and David Lloyd. "Introduction: Toward a Theory of Minority Discourse: What Is to Be Done?" In The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse, edited by Abdul JanMohamed and David Lloyd, 1–16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Kaminsky, Stuart M. "Don Siegel on the Pod Society." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 153–157. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

———. "The Genre Director: The Films of Don Siegel." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 177–181. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Kiernan, Joanna. "Film by Valie Export." Millenium Film Journal 16–18 (fall-winter 1986–87): 181–187.

Lang, Robert. American Film Melodrama. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Laura, Ernesto G. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." In Focus on the Science Fiction Film, edited by William Johnson, 71–73. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

LaValley, Al. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Politics, Psychology, Sociology." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 201–205. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Lukasz-Aden, Gudrun, and Christel Strobel. Der Frauenfilm. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne, 1985.

Lyon, Elizabeth. "Invisible Adversaries, or Body Doubles." Paper presented at the Modern Languages Convention, 1991.

MacDonald, Scott. A Critical Cinema. Vol. 2. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992, 283–318.

Mueller, Roswitha. "The Uncanny in the Eyes of a Woman: Valie Export's Invisible Adversaries ." Sub-Stance 37–38 (1983): 129–139.

———. Valie Export: Fragments of the Imagination. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

"Plastic Surgery under Fire." For Women First 4, no. 23 (8 June 1992): 14–25.

Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.

Pulleine, Tim. "Black Narcissus." Films and Filming 377 (February 1986): 31.

Richards, Renée. Second Serve. New York: Stein and Day, 1983.

Rodrig, Antonio. "Black Narcissus." Cinématographe 109 (April 1985): 5.

Rogin, Michael Paul. "Kiss Me Deadly: Communism, Motherhood, and Cold War Movies." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 201–205. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Sayre, Nora. "Watch the Skies." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director, edited by Al LaValley, 184. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Sheehan, Henry. "Black Narcissus." Film Comment 26, no. 3 (May–June 1990): 37–39.


Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space. New York: Ungar, 1987.

Steffen-Fluhr, Nancy. "Women and the Inner Game of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers ." In Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Don Siegel, Director , edited by Al LaValley, 206–221. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

Sturken, Marita. "Invisible Adversaries. " Afterimage 8 (May 1981): 18.

Sykora, Katharina. "When Form Takes as Many Risks as Content." Frauen und Film 46 (February 1989): 100–106.

Telotte, J. P. "The Doubles of Fantasy and the Space of Desire." In Alien Zone , edited by Annette Kuhn, 152–159. London: Verso, 1990.

Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! Jefferson: McFarland, 1982.

White, Patricia. "Madame X of the China Seas. " Screen 28, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 80–95.

Young, Robert. White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. New York: Routledge, 1990.


Nosferatu , or the Phantom of the Cinema

Lloyd Michaels

When Georges Méliès's camera jammed on that famous, if probably apocryphal, afternoon at the Place de l'Opéra, transforming the bus he had been shooting into a hearse during projection, he glimpsed for perhaps the first time the ghostly quality of the cinema's particular mode of representation. That phantom image of the hearse has proven to be an evocative symbol of film's unique way of simultaneously deceiving and enthralling the spectator by substituting an illusory presence for an absent referent, rendering as "undead" a lost object by animating projected shadows and light, often revealing the disturbing contours of familiar shapes. Filmmakers and audiences ever since have been attracted to the depiction of spirits and monsters that not only seem to express certain imperfectly repressed human desires but that also may reflect the idiosyncratic signifying process of the cinema itself. Certainly Mary Shelley's monster, Robert Louis Stevenson's Mr. Hyde, and Bram Stoker's Count Dracula now seem rather long-winded intellectuals compared to their original movie incarnations. Is it because as the offspring of uncontrollable technology, doubles of unstable wills, or fleeting creatures of darkness these celluloid characters exhibit something of the intrinsic nature of film?

Among the gallery of screen monsters, the vampire may be especially well suited to portray both the parasitical quality of the film artist's manipulation of the audience and the elusive, insubstantial nature of the film image.[1] Unlike the grotesque, omnipotent, larger-than-life creatures of most horror movies, the vampire remains a phantom —a vision of uncertain substance—rather than a certifiable monster . (See figure 28.) Christian Metz and John Ellis, among others, have elaborated on how the signifier in film must always reproduce a phantom of its referent. "The cinema image is marked by a particular half-magic feat in that it makes present something



Figure 28.
The shadow of Max Schreck, perhaps the most frightening vampire
to hit the big screen, looms in F. W. Murnau's  Nosferatu  (1922).

that is absent. The movement shown on the screen is passed and gone when it is called back into being as illusion. The figures and places shown are not present in the same space as the viewer. The cinema makes present the absent; this is the irreducible separation that cinema maintains (and attempts to abolish), the fact that objects and people are conjured up yet not known to be present" (Ellis, 58–59). Metz makes much the same point by contrasting cinema with the theater, noting how the screen presents not the real objects and persons on stage, but only an "effigy, inaccessible from the outset, in a primordial elsewhere , infinitely desirable (= never possessible)" (61). Thus, the movie spectator "pursues an imaginary object (a 'lost object') which is . . . always desired as such" (59). The vampire frightens us with its shadow rather than its substance; it is not larger than life but rather "undead"; it evokes not merely revulsion but also desire. As a paradigmatic creature of the cinema, especially in Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, 1922) and Herzog's remake, Nosferatu, the Vampyre (Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht, 1979), the vampire on film represents the imaginary so effectively because it is the imaginary (Metz, 41).

In addition to these German versions of the vampire myth, there have


been innumerable American and British adaptations, the most noteworthy of which include Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula (1958), and John Badham's Dracula (1978), not to mention the dozens of sequels, spin-offs, and parodies. During 1992, a fashionable year for vampire revivals, Buffy the Vampire Killer and Francis Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula appealed to widely diverse audiences. Each of the five major retellings to date, starring Max Schreck, Klaus Kinski, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Frank Langella in the title role, has sufficiently revitalized the power of the original novel to refute Alain Resnais's oft-cited rejection of adaptations as "warmed over meals." Murnau's and Herzog's Nosferatus , however, remain more resonant and compelling than the other Dracula movies for two related reasons: first, they present the count as a complex, even sympathetic character rather than the evil monster of Stoker's novel; second, they suggest a linkage between this indefinable characterization and the phantom images created by the cinematic apparatus. Their modernity, in short, derives from a certain self-reflexiveness missing in the other versions. Unlike their English-speaking counterparts, Schreck and Kinski manage to signify elusiveness rather than presence, lack rather than excess, entropy rather than lust. Their Draculas are less the doubles of perverse creative energy than the phantoms of the cinema itself.

Because it follows so closely the visual design of Murnau's original—essentially copying the costuming, makeup, plot structure, and performance style, borrowing some of the dialogue ("What a beautiful throat your wife has!") and camera angles, even shooting the very same buildings in Lubeck that Murnau had employed—Herzog's Nosferatu is a true remake rather than an adaptation, despite its creator's claims. While Herzog has said, "We are not remaking Nosferatu , but bringing it to new life and new character for a new age" (33), his film, unlike the others, cannot be fully appreciated without knowledge of its source (his title indicating that source to be Murnau's film and not Stoker's book), allowing the audience to reexperience many sequences by his employment of nearly identical compositions and blocking. The total aesthetic effect goes far beyond the usual allusions to certain images (rats, cut fingers, ruined castles, abandoned ships) or dialogue ("I never drink . . . wine"); instead, Herzog has conceived every moment with the original in mind, "bringing it to new life" as the "undead" inspiration—the unseen presence—behind his own creation. The parallel between his own art and his protagonist's vampirism could not have been far from his mind.

In contrast to Fisher's, Badham's, and Browning's adaptations, all three of which project an animated, elegant, raven-haired, black-caped protagonist—the mass marketed version of Dracula so familiar in cartoons and Halloween masks—Herzog's Nosferatu duplicates the somnambulistic, emaciated, bald-pated figure first incarnated by Max Schreck. Kinski's per-


formance thus brings to life a phantom of a phantom, a doubled double for the eternal melancholy and mystery of human character that the cinema, with its particular mode of representing "lost objects," seems uniquely equipped to represent. Whereas Murnau's silent film projected the deceptive, disturbing, and evanescent aspect of human character through such relatively new cinematic "tricks" as superimposition and negative shots, Herzog employs more subtle self-reflexive strategies to adumbrate the affinities between his central character and his medium. The result, as Lotte Eisner predicted after observing the shooting of Nosferatu, the Vampyre , extends the definition of a remake to something like Murnau's film "reborn" (Andrews, 33).

Through the vagaries of film history, Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror had already been reborn—or at least restored—before Herzog undertook the project. According to John Barbow, the original negative of Murnau's classic has been lost; thus, the existing prints (now widely distributed in 16 mm and video format) are copies , all of them incomplete, reproduced from Murnau's shooting script and commentary (82). This circumstance compounds the usual ontological status of the film image as a "lost object" and a figure of the "undead." Even the original characters have been displaced: Murnau's shooting script changes the names from Stoker's novel (for example, Dracula is called Count Orlock, Renfield is Knock), and different names are used in different prints of the film (for example, Jonathan's wife may be called Ellen or Nina).

In loosely adapting Stoker's novel to the screen,[2] Murnau simplified the social concerns while significantly expanding the role of the count, making him the dominant character. "Stoker's novel tells of a serious struggle between human systems. The ending is a paean not only to the good and moral but also to the enlightened, social, domestic, and scientific culture of late nineteenth-century England" (Todd, 200–201). Probably influenced by Freud and certainly by German Expressionism, Murnau's concerns are more psychological than social, as is evident in two ambiguous cuts between Nina and the far distant count. In the first of these, while sleepwalking from her bedroom in Bremen, Nina calls out to Jonathan, who lies prostrate before the menacing shadow of the count in his Carpathian castle. An intertitle says that Jonathan heard her warning cry, but the crosscut shows only Dracula retreating in apparent response. In a second sleepwalking sequence, Nina awakens to announce, "He is coming! I must go to him!" but her reference is ambiguous since it follows a shot, not of Jonathan returning by stagecoach, but of Dracula's ship at sea. Earlier, she had kept a vigil on the beach, supposedly for her husband (who left Bremen by land), further suggesting that the film's truest marriage is between herself and the vampire. Indeed, Murnau's other principal transformation of the novel (aside from expanding the count's role) involves making Nina, not van Helsing,


Nosferatu's main antagonist. Whereas in the novel, the woman must be saved from the monster, in the film she willingly sacrifices herself to become his destroyer. Van Helsing, however, is reduced to offering ineffectual lectures on Venus flytraps. The many remaining minor characters in the book are similarly simplified or eliminated. In comparison to Stoker's extended social morality play, Murnau's Nosferatu becomes essentially a tragedy with three characters.

In another departure from the novel, Murnau's count casts a menacing shadow as he stalks first Jonathan and later Nina. Stoker's Dracula, of course, casts no shadow or reflection. While striking in their abstraction of the vampire's horrific threat, these magnified shadows on blank walls also serve as reminders of the cinema's mode of representation. Sabine Hake has noted how early German film before Murnau was marked by "a kind of promotional self-referentiality that draws attention to the cinema and foregrounds its means" in order to "show audiences how to appreciate the cinema and its increasingly sophisticated products, how to deal with feelings of astonishment and disbelief, and how to gain satisfaction from the playful awareness of the apparatus and the simultaneous denial of its presence" (37–38). Murnau continues this tradition from the previous decade, although the self-reflexivity of Nosferatu , like that of the earlier films Hake describes, has little to do with a modernist questioning of the medium. Instead, Murnau explores the technical means available for representing the phantom of character that, for him, lies at the center of the story. In his film, the sources of Dracula's alienation and depravity remain unfathomed: nothing is to be learned of his ancestry, his philosophy, or his personal feelings. The mystery shrouding his character can only be approached through indirection, as in the grotesque shadows that signify his presence.

Murnau's use of other special effects—particularly the negative shot of the coach taking Harker through the forest to Dracula's castle and the superimpositions (double exposures) of the vampire's sudden spectral appearance—can be understood as similar demonstrations of the affinity between the cinema's process of signification involving the play of presence/absence and the ambiguous character of the film's protagonist. The negative image of the stagecoach, with its shrouded windows and horses, extends the haunting effect of Méliès's phantom hearse; the superimpositions seem to defy human corporeality and privilege the uncanny. Even the vampire's ultimate extinction, his dematerialization as conveyed through stop action and a puff of smoke, suggests by metonymy the spontaneous combustion that threatens the film's own nitrate stock. Of course, such subtle implications may have been far from the director's conscious design, but it seems significant that Murnau employs a quite different repertoire of stylistic devices—notably camera movement and depth focus—when he


comes to portray a more ordinary, "realistic," though equally fascinating, character in The Last Laugh (1924).

In setting out to adapt Murnau's Nosferatu, Herzog has retained the basic plot and mise-en-scène while refining the reflexive and expressionistic elements. Despite one reviewer's description of Nosferatu, the Vampyre as "simply Murnau with colour and sound" (Strick, 127), Bruce Kawin has more precisely noted how "no more than three shots are exactly the same in both films (allowing for the fact that Herzog's are in color)" (45). Paradoxically, this homage to the history of German cinema and to the director Herzog considers his country's greatest remains the most personal of all the Dracula films. While remaking Murnau's masterpiece, Herzog has also managed to remake Herzog, exploring the signature themes and stylistic elements that have defined his place as that of one of the seminal artists of the New German Cinema.

Although it is difficult to conceive of a more "faithful" remake, Nosferatu, the Vampyre also alters and even subverts Murnau's original in some significant ways. The most prominent changes involve both foregrounding the collapse of civilized society in the face of Nosferatu's invasion and elaborating the vampire's personal history and psychological motivation. The primary effect of these changes is to reverse the theme of Stoker's novel, the triumph of good over evil, and to undercut the sense of closure in Murnau's film. In Herzog's romantic, subversive ending, Nosferatu lives on in the vampirized character of Jonathan Harker, who flees from the bourgeois town of Wismar (actually Delft) into what Metz might call a "primordial elsewhere, " announcing that "I have much to do." Like the epilogue Polanski attaches to his version of Macbeth, this added scene expresses the director's personal reconception of the thematic implications of the original, an updating of the classic text in response to the exigencies of modern culture. The restoration of order in Shakespeare's and Murnau's work has been superseded by Polanski's and Herzog's vision of chronic malignancy.

Herzog's specific transformations of Murnau's Nosferatu may be organized according to a tripartite taxonomy of adaptation strategies broadly derived from Vladimir Propp: simplification, expansion, substitution (Crabbe, 47). By eliminating the original diary frame (the account of the plague in Wismar by one John Cavillius), Herzog excises the voice of rational authority over the progress of the story and replaces it with the mysterious choral accompaniment of Popul Vuh on the sound track.[3] Similarly, Dr. Van Helsing's scientific lectures have been cut, further subverting any "objective" explanation for the film's irrational events. Herzog's expansions chiefly involve the development both of Dracula's more sympathetic character and of Wismar's more stifling, ineffectual society. Murnau could only suggest the count's enervated, alienated existence through Schreck's performance and occasional crosscutting; Herzog adds dialogue expressing



Figure 29.
Horror and sexuality blend in Herzog's  Nosferatu, the Vampyre  (1979) as the
vampire (Klaus Kinski) approaches Lucy, played by the beautiful Isabelle Adjani.

the vampire's world weariness after witnessing centuries of sorrow, and Kinski speaks in a labored whisper, as if he were breathing through a respirator. Most notoriously, Herzog expands the representation of pestilence by importing thousands of laboratory rats and turning them loose in the streets of Schiedam (after the mayor of nearby Delft had prohibited their release). He also expands the sense of decadence by shooting new sequences of chaos in the town square (antithetical to Stoker's reaffirmation of bourgeois society and quite different from Murnau's orderly scenes showing crosses being painted on quarantined houses and coffins being carried through the streets). In preparation for his pessimistic ending, Herzog substitutes an ominous prelude for Murnau's initial images of domestic bliss (Jonathan picking flowers, Nina playing with her kitten). Thus, the credit sequence of Nosferatu, the Vampyre begins with a sustained tracking shot in a cave of contorted mummies, accompanied by a medieval dirge sung by Popul Vuh and followed by slow-motion images of a bat in flight. In the film's first diegetic scene, instead of tenderly receiving a bouquet from her husband, Lucy Harker awakens from a nightmare.

These transformations confirm Herzog's assertion that he is not simply


remaking Nosferatu but revivifying it. As in all previous versions, however, there remains at the very center of his film the haunting figure of Dracula himself, the mysterious object of both fear and desire. Only in Victor Erice's evocation of James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) in The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) is the monster treated with such ambivalence. Reflecting another crucial change from its precursors, the climax of Nosferatu, the Vampyre depicts Lucy drawing the vampire back to her neck as he begins to withdraw with the arrival of dawn. The bedside tableau clearly portrays the erotic subtext left imperfectly concealed in most versions of the story.[4] (See figure 29.) In this moment, Dracula transcends his previous incarnations as moral monster to become the double of Harker (who first appears whispering words of comfort into his frightened wife's neck as she awakens from her nightmare), the alter ego of Herzog (who identifies with the vampire's romantic restlessness), and the phantom of the cinema.

There are phantoms everywhere in Herzog's text. In addition to the presiding spirit of Murnau, and Kinski's reincarnation of Schreck, Nosferatu, the Vampyre conjures up the ghost of Stoker by restoring his original characters' names and echoes Bela Lugosi's famous line from Browning's Dracula when the count responds to the cry of wolves: "Listen! The children of the night make their music." Roland Topor's performance as Renfield, which drew a mixed response from reviewers, seems more comprehensible when understood as an allusion to the stylized appearances of Peter Lorre in dozens of horror films. Herzog thus evokes the history of what Eisner called Germany's "Haunted screen," in addition to referring to German painting (Caspar David Friedrich's mountain landscapes and ruined castles) and music (the Wagnerian sound track). Finally, Herzog resurrects the ghost of Herzog in a number of ways that reflect his own earlier films: the repertory company of collaborators, including Kinski, Popul Vuh, and cinematographer Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein; the time-lapse landscape shots as the clouds move over the mountains, from Heart of Glass (1976); the panning shots of Nosferatu's raft on the river, from Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972); the slowmotion depiction of the bat's flight, from The Great Ecstasy of the Woodsculptor Steiner (1974); the alienated protagonist and impotent bureaucrats, from The Mystery of Kasper Hauser (1974). By such varied means does the film continually inscribe presence/absence as a way of representing the spirit of the vampire.

Noël Carroll has questioned the significance of presence/absence as a paradigm for distinguishing film from other fictional narrative forms such as the novel or stage play. "Once we are considering the realm of fiction," Carroll writes, "it makes no sense to speak of the differences between cinema and theater in terms of what is absent to the spectator. In both fictional film and theatrical fiction, the characters are absent from the continuum of our world in the same way." Therefore, "Shylock is no more present to


the theater spectator than Fred C. Dobbs is present to the film viewer" (38). But Carroll's point holds true only for the referent—the reader's or viewer's mental construct of a character—and not for the signifier of that referent, in this case the actor. That is, Olivier is actually present on stage in the role of Shylock, while Bogart is not in the movie theater. The issue Metz and others have raised concerns not what the cinema signifies, but how . Moreover, the paradigm seems especially relevant to the reception of a remake, when the spectator remains continuously aware of the existence of a prior model that is both different and (except in the case of inserted footage, as in The Spirit of the Beehive ) absent from the present text.

In Nosferatu, the Vampyre, Herzog provides several occasions of presence/absence within the diegesis, discovering more subtle means for depicting a world of "lost objects" than Murnau's exploitation of stock effects such as negative shots and stop action. The film's arresting precredit sequence, with its slow tracking across the stricken faces of the mummified dead, begins the process of evoking the phantom existence that every film—but especially this film—brings to life. In addition to his relentlessly moving camera, Herzog employs an expressionist sound track—a mournful two-note chorus combined with the amplified sound of a heartbeat—to animate the still images, rendering them as "undead" through the particular signifying processes of the cinema. Similarly, the closing time-lapse shot of Harker riding off into the distance across a desert landscape accompanied by the choral strains of Gonoud's Sanctus confirms his new identity as a lost soul destined to wander endlessly in a "primordial elsewhere ." But the question of character remains: has his identity been permanently transformed by the vampire's bite, or simply revealed?

Another privileged moment that suggests the cinema's potential to represent the uncanny occurs when Harker seeks transport across the Borgo Pass to Dracula's castle. Herzog invents a dialogue scene missing from Murnau's film. While attending his four horses hitched to the stagecoach, the coachman replies to Jonathan's request for passage, "I haven't any coach." Asked if he will sell a horse for double the price, he answers, "Can you not see? I haven't any horses."[5] After walking alone for days across the mountains, Harker is finally rescued by the mysterious appearance of another coach, whose driver (as in both Murnau and Browning) disappears before they reach the castle. In a third permutation of what might be understood as a kind of reincarnation of Méliès's phantom hearse, the stricken Harker is driven back to Wismar in a single-horse rig whose perfectly balanced reflection Herzog mirrors in the adjacent canal. In each case, the imaginary calls into question, in effect remakes, the real.

In addition to such conventional devices as mirror shots and dramatic shadows, Herzog often employs formal composition within the frame to create the presence of absence, most clearly in the domestic scenes in



Figure 30.
The "Last Supper" in Herzog's  Nosferatu, the Vampyre  (1979), manages
to mix humor and horror in depicting the decay of civilized society.

Wismar after Harker's return. In one shot-in-depth, for example, Lucy reads about Dracula in close-up while her enervated husband can be glimpsed in the background slumped in a chair, now truly a lost object barely distinguishable from the furniture. A more subtle use of mise-enscène occurs earlier at the mountain inn. Harker impatiently demands his dinner so that he can be on his way to the count's castle. At the mention of Dracula's name, the gypsies all suddenly stop eating, and the composition becomes a virtual freeze-frame. In the foreground with his back to the camera, Jonathan confronts the silent, crowded room, with diners on either side of the frame and a triangular shadow in the middle ground pointing toward an empty window at the vanishing point. In this possible allusion to Renaissance paintings of the Last Supper, Herzog emphasizes not the presence of the Savior but the absence of communion: Jonathan remains estranged from both the innkeeper behind him (and the camera) and the guests before him; there is no chalice, no food, nothing in the window but a foreboding vacancy. Herzog follows this sequence with more obvious parodies of the Last Supper: first, when Jonathan dines with Dracula at the castle and later when the rats replace the bourgeois party consuming "their last supper" in the ruined town square. (See figure 30.)


These various phantom figures—the transmogrified mummies, the uncertain coaches, the debilitated husband, the empty window—all suggest a connection between the vampire's elusive existence and the cinema's presentation of character. As Nosferatu drains his victims of blood, the film image deprives its referent of the materiality it once possessed when it appeared before the camera. Every object, every actor becomes a ghost in the moment of projection, but no object seems as slippery, duplicitous, and evanescent as human character, which must remain both partially hidden (character as a signified, a matrix of emotional, moral and cognitive traits) and subject to change. Herzog, a filmmaker conversant with contemporary critical theory, compounds the spectator's awareness of this "lost object" status of film through a number of self-reflexive moments, some of which have already been described. The prominent mirror images, for example—Lucy's reflection in the water during her sleepwalking, the horizontal tracking shot of the coach returning Jonathan to Wismar, and the powerful scene when Dracula first visits Lucy as she sits before her dressing mirror—serve as reminders of the camera's mimetic function as well as the Lacanian basis ("the mirror stage") for Metz's theory of the cinema's imaginary signifier. Following Murnau's example in defying Stoker's conception of Dracula as casting no shadow, Herzog's Nosferatu is virtually defined by the darkness in which he lives and which he casts over others. In a brilliant stroke, Herzog displays only the count's shadow entering Lucy's bedroom and reflecting in her mirror, the door opening as if by itself; as he advances on her frightened form doubled in the glass, he casts no reflection of his own. Like Lucy, then, the spectator becomes terrified by the framed reflection of a shadow . What has been signified in this tableau, the irreducible nature of Dracula's character (he begs only to share Lucy's love), has been perfectly matched by the cinematic signifier.

At times, in fact, Nosferatu almost stands in for the cinema itself. In the memorable long shot of his phosphorescent skull glimmering in the darkened upper window of his Wismar mansion—a shot borrowed directly from Murnau—he resembles the light from the projection booth, casting his gaze on the community he holds in thrall. This association also occurs earlier at the castle when the count serves Harker a midnight supper. Dracula sits above and behind his visitor, his white bulb of a head surrounded by darkness and framed by a window, his labored breath like the sound of the projector mechanism, his attentive guest increasingly menaced by his mesmerizing presence. Judith Mayne has aptly described how Nosferatu here occupies "a literal 'no man's land'" (126) in the black background of the composition, the same uncharted region Harker himself will traverse in the film's concluding vision when he becomes, in effect, the remake of his master.

Perhaps the sanctification of the vampire's continuing mission as enun-


ciated in the finale by Gonoud's chorus should not be regarded as simply ironic. Like Herzog remaking Murnau, the new Nosferatu has not only escaped the quotidian realm that first oppressed him ("These canals that go nowhere but back on themselves," as Jonathan described Wismar) but also transcended his mentor's fate. No wonder, then, that Herzog seems to celebrate his disappearance into myth, to be reborn again as the phantom of the cinema.

Works Cited

Andrews, Nigel. "Dracula in Delft." American Film 4, no. 1 (1978): 32–38.

Barbow, John D. German Expressionist Film. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

Carroll, Noël. Mystifying Movies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Crabbe, Katharyn. "Lean's 'Oliver Twist': Novel to Film." Film Criticism 2, no. 1 (1977): 46–51.

Ellis, John. Visible Fictions. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982.

Hake, Sabine. "Self-Referentiality in Early German Cinema." Cinema Journal 31, no. 3 (1992): 37–55.

Kawin, Bruce. "Nosferatu." Film Quarterly 33, no. 3. (1980): 45–47.

Mayne, Judith. "Herzog, Murnau, and the Vampire." The Films of Werner Herzog , edited by Timothy Corrigan, 119–32. New York: Methuen, 1986.

Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Strick, Philip. "Nosferatu—the Vampyre." Sight and Sound 48, no. 2 (1979): 127–28.

Todd, Janet. "The Classic Vampire." The English Novel and the Movies , edited by Michael Klein and Gillian Parker, 197–210. New York: Ungar.


How Many Draculas Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Ira Konigsberg

He ought to be left in peace. We keep exhuming him from his musty tomb, trying to set him going again, animating him so that he will continue to rise from the coffin from his own volition. But his volition is really our volition. So much has been written about this dark, enigmatic, seductive figure in recent years that the mind boggles, nausea overwhelms as one again confronts the subject, speculates on the story's popularity. So much has been written on both the book and the films—we can not consider them apart since all the criticism seems concerned with the same basic myth. And yet the book and films will not cohere—each cinematic treatment seems another attempt to get it right, to put the book on film or, at least, to find in the book what is the heart, the center, the significance of the myth. We can certainly think of each filming as a reinterpretation to fit a changing time and culture, but we still wonder at the large number of remakes, at the popularity of the story, at the commitment of director after director to put the story, all over again, on film. We are after bigger game, deeper insights. If Bram Stoker had not invented him, Dracula would have existed anyway.

We are dealing here with more than the subject of remakes: we are dealing with a preoccupation, an obsession. I count seven film versions of the novel—nine, if we consider two television adaptations of some ambition.[1] But the Dracula myth is also an articulation, a configuration of larger themes—I notice a recent publication that describes 372 vampire films in general (Flynn). The Dracula myth, though, is certainly the most eloquent, the most stirring, and the most popular articulation of the vampire motif in contemporary culture. We must, therefore, approach this book and its filmic adaptations as the embodiment of forces that transcend this specific configuration, but we must see this configuration as the most accessible


means in our culture of reaching for these transcendent meanings; and we must see each film adaptation as itself a different interpretation of these transcendent significations or, at least, as a different focus on them. What I should like to explore, ultimately, in this essay is the possibility that all of these versions may be seen as an attempt to push deeper into the heart of the myth, an attempt to unlayer the palimpsest.

We see a compulsion to repeat in each of these films: the monster keeps reappearing and he continues to perform his unspeakable acts until the film must close and we must rejoin the daylight world. But the repetition compulsion is also evident in the constant remakes of the film, in telling the story over and over, in trying, finally, to understand and master it. Sometimes the pretense is to get the actual novel on film, to be true to Stoker's vision,[2] but even if we acknowledge the virtual impossibility of adapting a novel to film with any degree of accuracy, we must still be struck by the way in which filmmakers consciously and even waywardly seem to try so ardently not to get the novel on film. The novel, finally, seems a pretext, a legitimization of some other effort, of an attempt to develop something inherent in the novel and earlier films and hence to develop away from the earlier versions. Each telling is not so much a reshaping to fit a new time period as each time period allows a retelling that takes the film one step further, that repeats while doing more than repeating.

Freud goes beyond pleasure in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) to explain the repetition compulsion. He attempts to explain the phenomenon in biological and evolutionary terms. He puts us on the edge of a new vista by suggesting that "all instincts tend towards the restoration of an earlier state of things" (26). Why not push further and see psychoanalysis itself as part of an evolutionary process? Why not take the step and think anthropologically, as Freud himself did on this occasion. In this context, then, film becomes something more than film. In this context Francis Ford Coppola's most recent version of the story, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) can take us farther into the heart of darkness while not being a satisfactory cinematic work—in fact, its weaknesses as a film may be inextricably linked to its success in penetrating back into our biological and evolutionary history. (See figure 31.) We shall proceed with this discussion, finally to arrive at such an interpretation of Dracula 's latest remake.

As Coppola's film is both successful and not successful, it is also both a horror film and not a horror film. It is a horror film since it deals with themes that have traditionally been dealt with by this genre, but not one because it no longer deals with these themes horrifically. Horror films seem to have gone as far as they can legitimately go in horrifying people—the nadir has been reached and the genre, for all intents and purposes, is on its last legs. Violence had become so exploitative that the exploited in the audience have become immune to their own exploitation; sex has become



Figure 31.
Gary Oldman is convincing as Dracula in Francis
Ford Coppola's no-holds-barred, visually arresting
retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula  (1992).

so violent that violence has become totally sexualized. What Coppola has created is a work strangely divided between its romantic and horrific elements. We saw this turn of events coming with John Badham's 1979 Dracula , with the romanticization of Stoker's story to such an extent that the film seems less like Dracula and a horror film than all the previous versions.[3] (See figure 32.) Coppola took from the old horror film that which was still salvageable and developed it in the only logical way that he could—as an erotic dream, creating a work more erotic and dreamlike than even Badham's film. Coppola himself admits his attempt to create "almost a



Figure 32.
Frank Langella's fine stage presence is lost in the
mist of special horror effects in John Badham's
overblown recasting of Dracula  (1979).

dream state" through "a kind of evocative, poetic use of imagery" that he finds in the symbolist movement of the late nineteenth century, clearly referring to the paintings of such figures as Klimt and Moreau (Coppola and Hart, 70). Coppola unleashes the fantastic and sends us hurling into psychic space. The irony here is that he is able to do so only because he has so little vision of his own, because he is such an excellent reader of past films and can derive his own work from all the understated and yet most compelling dark corners of earlier Dracula films and other films of fantasy as well.[4] All



Figure 33.
Max Schreck chills us to the bone, silently,
in F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu  (1922).



Figure 34.
Klams Kinski stars in Werner Herzog's  Nosferatu, the Vampyre  (1979).

those homages and references to earlier films, as well as the scene in the cinematographic parlor, are but a recognition that this is a film about films and, as such, a dream about dreams.

The equation of the Dracula story to a dream is apparent in Murnau's early silent film of 1922, Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (see figure 33), with its primitive attempts to achieve this quality through such special effects as accelerated motion and negative images, but also through the characters' references to dreaming as well as Ellen's somnambulism and sleepwalking. Both this film and Werner Herzog's effective and stylistic remake in 1979, Nosferatu, The Vampyre (see figure 34), photograph a number of their scenes in the outdoor world, but both films are impressive as a result of their intrusion of the supernatural dimension into this reality. Basing his film on the stage version by Deane and Balderston and focusing on Bela Lugosi's otherworldly performance (see figure 35), Tod Browning confines his 1931 film mostly to the studio, creating a work singularly slow and spatially limited even with the opening sequence at Castle Dracula and the closing one in Carfax Abbey creating a somnambulistic and dreamlike state to his entire work. Whereas the colorful, bold, but unsubtle film made in England in 1956 by Hammer Film Productions and directed by Terence Fisher gave the count an earthly power and zest through Christopher Lee's perfor-



Figure 35.
Bela Lugosi's most memorable screen performance
was that of the count in Tod Browning's  Dracula  (1931).

mance (see figure 36), and Badham's version places much of his story in an outdoor setting, Coppola insulates his characters and world from any hint of reality, shoots the whole thing in the enclosures of a studio, breaks down any semblance of real time and space, and uses performers who seem themselves totally unreal—there is not enough of the real world in this film to make events seem threatening either to the characters on the screen or to the audience. But this is a film that explores and exploits the dream quality of all previous Dracula films, that makes hints of the unconscious



Figure 36.
Christopher Lee plays the title role in Terence Fischer's
The Horror of Dracula  (1956). Lee also played the
same role in Jesse Franko's  Count Dracula  (1970).

even more visible and recognizable.[5] And in being so focused on the unconscious, Coppola falls into the pit and goes spinning right past the oedipal and preoedipal stages, hurling down our genetic line.

The analogy between watching a film and dreaming is almost as old as film criticism itself, and the concomitant connection between the horror film and a nightmare almost a cliché at this point in time. In recent years the regressive quality of viewing a film, film's ability not only to penetrate


into the unconscious but to reawaken early infantile experiences, has received considerable attention (for example, in the writings of Baudry and Metz). The Dracula films envelope us in a world already dreamlike and unreal, with their closed bedrooms and dungeons, with their logistics of doors and windows, with their nighttime intruders and sleeping, passive victims, with their intrusion of the dead into the world of the living. Lloyd Michaels, in another essay in this collection, refers to the suitability of film, with its illusion of reality—of a world that seems to be here but is actually not—to portray the phantom presence and nonpresence of the vampire. The point is well taken in relation to Coppola's realization that the year of the novel's publication, 1897, was the same time as the beginning of projected motion pictures and his staging of an early scene between the count and Mina in a cinematography parlor. But I wish to take this point in yet another direction and consider the film image from both a psychoanalytic and phenomenological viewpoint, a consideration that takes us to a major issue in the book as well as in all the films. For me the issue is about perception and representation, a subject closely related to presence and absence (by "perception" I mean the image we perceive and by "representation" the object as it is represented outside of us). Baudry makes the cogent point that "the cinematic apparatus is unique in that it offers the subject perceptions 'of a reality' whose status seems similar to that of representations experienced as a perception "—a confusion between perception and representation "characteristic" of both the primary process and dream (120). But whereas Baudry's point is that cinema returns us to an infantile phase in which perception and representation were not yet differentiated, my own point is that this confusion reinforces the drama of the characters' and our own interaction with the vampire figure—a point that Coppola nicely underscores with his film's self-reflexivity, but one that he knows to be inherent in all the films before him. We may relate this notion to the most fundamental aspect of the horror film, the fact that what we see is originally a product not of reality but the mind's reality, that what is dramatized before us is some form or shape of mental configurations that we all share in our dream and fantasy lives. What we have, then, are representations of perceptions mistaken for representations. What we have within the films themselves are stories of characters who must be forced to take as representations what we unconsciously sense as our own perceptions. In a major way, these characters act out our own issues of denial and acceptance, of fear and desire; these films are so uncanny because they actually represent what has heretofore been hidden as our own perceptions.

Recall Van Helsing's speech in Stoker's novel about belief and disbelief: "Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand; and yet which are; that some people see things that others cannot? That there


are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men's eyes, because they know—or think they know—some things which other men have told them" (197). It is interesting that he discourses on what people believe in terms of their seeing and not seeing, in terms of what they will see and will not see, especially since he soon urges Jonathan "[t]o believe in things that you cannot" (198). Let us recall that it was Jonathan's strange adventures in Transylvania that unleashed the unholy forces in the novel; that it was Jonathan who could not see, or would not see, that one of the three female vampires who sought to attack him, the one with blonde hair, seemed so familiar to him because she reminded him of his Mina; and that Jonathan is still, at this point in the novel, suffering from myopia. It becomes clearer and clearer that he and the other characters will not see because they do not want to see, because they do not want to have their subjective perceptions proved to be actual representations. In his Studies in Hysteria, Freud refers to the "peculiar state in which one knows something and at the same time does not know it" (117), a description that well fits the human characters in the Dracula myth and that will take on even more significance in the latter part of this essay. But we must always remember that these characters are our own surrogates in these films, acting out our own resistance and final submission to the monsters that we see on the screen.

The theme of belief and disbelief runs throughout all the films. Van Helsing tells us in Browning's 1931 film, "The strength of the vampire is that people will not believe in him," emphasizing the fact that people will not believe in the vampire because they do not wish to. In Jess Franco's film, Harker himself asks Van Helsing, "Then why did you not believe what I told you about Count Dracula?" and the wise man responds, "I cannot tell you. I dare not." He dares not because of what he knows about himself and the vampire, that Dracula indeed is the manifestation of some part of himself. Later he says, about Dracula, "I feel as though I know him better than my own soul." All of these films, like the novel, have the same plot wherein a group of people must be convinced of the existence of this nighttime horror; until they are convinced, violation follows upon violation. In Terence Fischer's version, Harker knows from the start that Dracula is a vampire, and, in league with Van Helsing, goes to the castle under the pretext of cataloguing the count's books but with the real purpose of destroying him. Although the start to this film seems fabricated and, once in the castle, Harker seems totally incompetent and incapable, the notion of libraries and books is in keeping with the theme of articulation and communication—articulating and communicating the reality of the vampire to others—that runs throughout the first part of the film, a theme also developed through the importance placed on Jonathan's diary and Van Helsing's Dictaphone.


In Herzog's film Van Helsing claims to be a man of science, but he is weak and ineffectual while the heroine, relying on faith, is able to grasp the situation and bring the plague to an end through her sacrifice.

The asylum guard in Browning's 1931 version has two lines he delivers to a female servant that at first appear to be a throwaway comic bit—"They're all crazy except me and you. Sometimes I have me doubts about you"—but consideration, in the light of my present discussion, gives the statement a telling irony. The issue of belief and disbelief is very much tied in with that of sanity and insanity because either an individual will appear insane to the sane if he or she perceives the truth or one may have to transcend what is normally considered sanity to see this reality beyond our everyday reality. After Harker's adventure, which unleashes Dracula upon an unsuspecting civilization, and the boat ride on the Demeter that transits the count from one world to the other, Renfield takes on importance as the only one of the characters who knows the nature of the Dracula figure and the only one who knows what is going on in general. The crazy man is crazy because he is in touch with forces that shatter his sanity, but he is thought crazy because he is in touch with a reality that the other characters cannot and will not see.

Badham's 1979 Dracula is the first of these films to emphasize the importance of Seward's mental institution, to see it as the proper location for the myth's abnormal acts and forces—all the shots within the institution are in muted colors with dominant grays as if to suggest a documentary credibility to this context. After Lucy (Badham switches Lucy's and Mina's names) has become the lover and advocate of the count, she herself is locked up in the institution, something unthinkable with her corresponding character in the novel and the other films, but fitting in a larger context: like Renfield she now has the vision that removes her from the limited seeing of the everyday world of reality. Whereas the other characters continue to see only the representations that exist outside of them, Lucy now is able to merge her perceptions with the world of representations. Since perception must be a product of desire, she has projected her desires onto the world outside of her. Since perception and representation have merged for her she has, literally, removed herself from the everyday world of the sane and unseeing. To believe in the novel and all the films, to see the truth, is a form of insanity because belief not only removes one from the world of the sane, but it also reshapes the world that one perceives outside of one's self in the image of the dark recesses of the mind. All the films bear this out, with Count Dracula unleashing the hidden desires of the Lucys and Minas, with these women throwing open their arms to welcome the dark midnight intruder and baring their throats to his teeth.

The ultimate question with all these films is what exactly is the perception we subjectively have of the vampire figure—what do we project onto


his representation on the screen (and what, finally, do we introject into ourselves)? The answer resists a simplistic reduction. As our mental lives are the creations of layers upon layers of mental stages and experiences, so does Dracula become a repository for all these levels, a palimpsest who entices us to analyze him layer upon layer. The popularity of this figure resides in the complexity of his representation, in the fact that he is always more than what he at first seems. To trace the development of the Dracula story in film is to see what aspect or aspects of this figure each filmmaker emphasizes, a focus very much impacted by changes in our culture in general, especially in issues of gender and sexuality, but also by a growing self-consciousness in the arts of psychoanalytic concepts and by changes in the history of cinema, particularly the decline of genre films and an expanding self-reflexivity in film—the fact that genre films have been replaced by films about genre films.

The variations in the focus upon the Dracula figure very much determine what aspects of Stoker's original story are emphasized. We might think of these films according to two grids, a vertical, paradigmatic grid that represents the various choices that each film makes about the characterization of Dracula and a horizontal, syntagmatic grid that represents the sequence of actions chosen to intersect with the vertical grid. The following paragraphs outline the basic sequence of actions and the syntagmatic variations that emerge from the novel and its film versions.

1. Jonathan Harker's visit to Castle Dracula, which is described in the novel by Harker himself as a transition from the modern West to the old-world East, but also a journey into the world of superstition and "some sort of imaginative whirlpool" (12). Browning's film, largely based on the stage play by Balderstone and Deane, has Renfield make the journey, and Fisher's film takes away much of the journey itself and deposits Harker almost immediately at the castle in broad daylight—an emphasis on the this-worldly qualities of Dracula. Badham's 1979 version is the only one of these films totally to ignore the journey and the visit to the castle, erasing the mysterious background of the figure and making him less a creature from our own imaginations than a creation of Hollywood romance.

2. The journey of the Demeter, which reminds us that in mythology and literature the crossing of a body of water is often symbolic of a journey from one world to the next. The fact that the ship is named after the earth-mother goddess of the Greeks may well be Stoker's way of suggesting Dracula's birth into the everyday world of nineteenth-century England, but the name also suits the androgynous nature of the figure as discussed toward the end of this essay. The Hammer


film features no such journey, probably because of budgetary considerations; instead the journey from Castle Dracula to Lucy and Mina is a mere coach drive from one neighboring European city to another. Franco's film also eliminates the boat trip for budgetary concerns and has first Harker and then Dracula suddenly appearing at the sanitarium outside of London, which in this case is run by Van Helsing.

3. Dracula's interaction with Renfield. Much of the action of the middle part of the story is centered on Dracula's interactions with three characters in England: Renfield, Lucy, and Mina. These interactions are themselves paralleled by the relationship of Van Helsing to the three figures, a relationship that develops his own awareness and powers and that culminates in his expunging Dracula from the everyday world of the living. It is clear that the insane Renfield now takes the place of Harker as the bridge between Dracula's world and England: his major function is to invite Dracula into the Seward asylum and home, since the vampire figure cannot enter on his own volition.

4. Dracula's seduction, destruction, and transformation of Lucy, which is the most explicitly misogynistic and sexually violent relationship in most versions of the story. The character is absent in the Nosferatu films (although Herzog, like Badham, uses her name for his Mina character) since the focus of the film is not on sexuality. In the remainder of the films Lucy is the woman drawn to the vampire figure and punished for her sexuality.

5. Dracula's relationship with and desire for Mina. In the novel Mina is the strong and virtuous woman with a "man's brain" who is forced by Dracula to drink his blood from a self-inflicted gash in his chest. While Mina and Lucy trade names in Badham's film, the character clearly becomes a creature of the 1970s, a liberated woman and law student who willingly takes the count as her lover and enjoys a protracted act of lovemaking and bloodletting. In Coppola's film Mina becomes a reincarnation of Dracula's wife, and the two characters become star-crossed lovers struggling against the onrush of time.

6. The pursuit of Dracula back to his place of origin, where he is finally destroyed on the threshold of his castle. The only one of the films to come close to the novel in its ending is the most recent version. In both Nosferatu films the monster is destroyed in the heroine's bedroom, victim of her sacrifice. Herzog imposes a modern ending on the tale, sending Harker off on a journey, himself now a vampire, carrying the deadly plague that Dracula began. In Browning's film, Dracula and Mina are followed to nearby Carfax Abbey by Van Helsing and Harker where the older man gets rid of Dracula off-


screen while the two young lovers are united. Badham's Dracula is discovered and exposed to the sun on an outgoing ship, but his cape rises high in the air, becoming batlike wings as Mina's tears are replaced by a smile of triumph.

We can find the following themes residing in the Dracula figure in the book and in these films through the way in which the plot is structured and developed. I would argue that all of these themes are inherent in the figure in every treatment, but that different films manipulate the figure differently to focus on one or another of these aspects of his character.

The Dead and Undead

This is probably the most obvious and immediate significance of the vampire figure, especially with its early connection to plagues, inexplicable deaths, and premature burials in eastern Europe, particularly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The theme is most emphasized in the Nosferatu films, with the connection between the vampire figure and the plague of Wisborg in the first film and the plague of Wismar in the second. Melton claims that the term "Nosferatu" derives from nosufur-atu, an Old Slavonic word meaning "plague carrier" (435).[6] Some critics have seen the Nosferatu of both Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski as resembling an erect penis (for example, Danoun, 54–55), but such an interpretation seems to me to be the result of a preconceived sexual interpretation of the vampire in general. Certainly both Murnau and Herzog emphasize the ratlike heads and unworldly demeanor of their vampires to link them to the themes of plague and pestilence. One of the most striking scenes in Murnau's film is the long shot of the procession of pallbearers carrying the coffins down the narrow, claustrophobic street from the top part of the frame to the bottom, a scene repeated and widened in Herzog's work with a high-angle shot of three forlorn processions in the town square of Wismar. But all the films to some degree play with this general motif, especially with Dracula's coffin as a central image. Although vampires in eastern Europe were thought to be reanimated corpses, Dracula is often thought of as "undead," and the theme of immortality is stressed in the book and all these films—remember Van Helsing's words in the novel, "The vampire lives on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time" (245). But Dracula is also seen as a creature who is both undead and dead, a transitional figure who moves between the two worlds and, as such, responds also to our fear of the spirits that inhabit the other world and intrude into ours, especially as nighttime creatures. Yet this is often a creature who seems to have had enough of such intrusions and would prefer to remain permanently in his grave. Recall Lugosi's speech in the 1931 film, "To die, to be really dead—that must be


glorious," sentiments expressed in some variation by all the figures in the sound versions of these films. Lucy, in most of these films, becomes a vampire creature of the cemetery after her death and is finally put to rest so that she may remain dead.

The novel also emphasizes the physical aspects of death: though Dracula may appear to grow younger and stronger as he feasts on more blood, he always has the stench of the grave and the pallor of the dead. In the films he is too much a seductive lover to have these qualities, but corporeal decay does rise to the surface in Terence Fischer's film with the effective physical decomposition of Dracula at the end of the work achieved by a series of very skillful superimpositions. Coppola's film also adds a contemporary note to the theme of plague and disease so developed in the Nosferatu films by subtly relating AIDS to the disease of the blood spread by Dracula. We first meet the Van Helsing character, Professor Bulwer in the film, giving a lecture to his students on "the diseases of the blood" and their connection to "the sex problem." On a deeper level the connection may even be more disturbing, reminding us that the suave count in the sound films is a representative of the seductiveness of death and, as such, a manifestation of our death wish. In this context we must recognize that the heroines of Badham's and Coppola's films are committing an act of necrophilia when they willingly make love to someone who is not alive.[7]

Political Oppressor and Victimizer

Although this is the least developed aspect of the Dracula figure in the films, it still remains part of his characterization and is very much evident in the novel. In Stoker's novel, the count gives to Jonathan Harker an account of his warrior's background and his life as a patriot (37–39). Dracula in all his incarnations is a creature of an aristocratic background, and though he may certainly be symbolic of the decay and degeneration of this class, he is also symbolic of this group's oppressive powers. In various degrees and ways all the Dracula figures have a certain regal bearing and disdain for the other characters they confront. The very act of drinking the blood of the living is symbolic of the way in which the aristocracy has fed off and destroyed those beneath them. Coppola's film most develops Stoker's use of the historically real Wallachian figure, Vlad Tepes, also called Vlad the Impaler for his ruthless way of punishing his Turkish enemies, as a background for his count, but the film never develops this political dimension in its rush into sexuality and romance.[8] One must turn to a West German film made by Hans W. Geissendörfer in 1970, Jonathan, an allegorical telling of Hitler and his horrors that has only some resemblance to the novel, to see a full treatment of this political aspect of the figure.


The Anti-Christ and Anti-God

On the most fundamental level, all the Dracula stories, like so many horror films, are moral allegories depicting the struggle of good against evil, but this particular myth ties itself more directly into the struggle of Christianity against the forces of darkness: Van Helsing says in Badham's film, "If we are defeated, then there is no God." The religious aspects of the story are well-known and frequently a source of great humor for audiences even when filmmakers do not intend them to be funny. Vampires, along with witches and werewolves, were part of the developing folklore in eastern Europe and also Greece that the Christian Church was quick to pick up and exploit in its war against disbelief during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[9] Vampires were sometimes thought to be creatures unbaptized, excommunicated, buried without a proper religious service, or born on Christmas day (Summers, passim). The ways in which Christian symbols are used as a weapon in the novel and films are easy enough to identify, but I must emphasize how much the very notion and nature of the vampire is shaped to be the reverse of Christ, the symbol of goodness and rebirth. Dracula is a creature of the dark, not the light. Dracula is a creature of the body, a soulless fiend who casts no reflection in the mirror, while Jesus takes us beyond the body and offers us an everlasting life of the spirit. While Jesus was permanently resurrected, the vampire must descend into the tomb every day at sunrise. Jesus offers the promise of everlasting life, while Dracula is a creature of the grave who belongs to the undead and offers a state of perpetual longing and need as a member of the undead. Through the Eucharist, Jesus gives us his blood and flesh in an act of sacrifice and holiness, while the vampire tears at our flesh and takes our blood from us. Therefore all things holy and related to Jesus—the cross, holy wafer, and holy water—are anathema to Dracula. The Christian iconography is played down in both Nosferatu films because of the ineffectuality of religion to stop the onslaught of the plague, while it becomes a chief means of fighting and controlling the vampire in Browning and Fischer's films. Badham's version undermines the religious element when Frank Langella, as the count, reaches out and ignites a wooden cross with his touch, so strong and powerful has he become through his passionate love for Lucy. When Dracula tells Lucy in this film, "You will be flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood," as they commence their ardent lovemaking in one of the most stylized and romanticized interaction of vampire and female in any of these films, we know that the motif is neither Christian nor anti-Christian but Hollywood romance; indeed, Van Helsing even fears toward the end of the film that the two will go off and create more of their kind, suggesting the possibility of a happy and fruitful wedlock. Coppola's film most dramatizes this religious element, at least at the very start of the film, even suggesting that


Dracula's career as a vampire and as the undead is very much involved with his sacrilegious behavior in the church after hearing of his wife's suicide and the church's refusal to bury her in holy ground. "Is this my reward for defending God's church?!" Dracula shouts in Romanian before he goes into a rampage, impaling the cross and drinking bloody holy water from the sacramental communal goblet as the chapel fills with blood from the wounded cross.

As Jesus is made of the substance of the father and son, so is Dracula as much an anti-God as anti-Christ. In the novel, Renfield quotes Dracula as seeming to say to him, "All these lives will I give you, ay, and many more and greater, through countless ages, if you will fall down and worship me!" (285). As Van Helsing states, "[H]e can, within limitations, appear at will when and where and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements: the storm, the fog, the thunder . . ." (243)—a limited God, but God-like nonetheless, he is more than human. Of course no such impression of the vampire figure is possible from either of the Nosferatu films, where he is clearly a figure of death. In Murnau's film, the Renfield character, Krock, may announce, "He is coming. I must go to meet him." But what arrives in Wisborg from the ship is the count carrying his coffin and a host of rats. Budgetary concerns in Browning's, Fisher's, and Franco's films limit the powers of Dracula and make him seem something less than God, though he remains something more than mortal. Although Gary Oldman is a young performer and plays a young Dracula through much of Coppola's film, he gives a striking performance as an older count in the first part, an overpowering, otherworldly figure who dwarfs the inept Harker. But the sense of Dracula's omnipotence and ever-present threat is created in the film largely through Coppola's visual technique and editing, through the shadow of Dracula that falls upon a scene even when he does not seem to be there (a technique anticipated in Murnau's film), through the all-seeing eyes that we view in the sky on the other side of the window of a moving train, through the unnatural crosscutting that seems to distort and finally overcome time and space in order to impose the presence and actions of the count on the characters in England. Though Badham's and especially Coppola's film are able to create a figure more powerful than those in the other films, with greater supernatural abilities, we still remember these figures more for the strength of their human passions than their inhuman powers.

The Unconsciously Desired

Dracula is very much a projection of repressed sexuality who is able to perform his physical acts upon the young people because he is the aggressor


and takes responsibility for their violation. Sexual repression is an underlying motif throughout Stoker's novel, a clear product of his own Victorian age. The seductiveness of sin in the guise of Dracula is most related to the female characters who, deep down, are shown to desire the male's physical penetration. This is certainly not the case, though, in both Nosferatu films. The heroine is the woman "pure in heart" whose virtue and sacrifice destroy the vampire figure; in both versions the monster drinks her blood in the most repulsive and least erotic scenes of this action in all the films—in both films she lies in bed across much of the horizontal plane of the frame from left to right, with the monster sitting behind her and taking his nourishment by sipping from her neck. In Herzog's film the vampire starts to take up her nightgown, but she guides his head to her throat. The shots of the count lowering his head to the exposed necks of both women in the Browning film is the first filmic statement of the theme of repressed sexuality, which is then made more explicit in Terence Fisher's film where both Lucy and Mina, under the power of the count, allow him into their bedrooms. Van Helsing tells us in this version that "victims consciously detest being dominated by vampires but are unable to relinquish the practice." Although sexuality is forced upon these women by the mesmerizing powers of the count, they must be punished for such a transgression, for the defilement of their bodies, which, on some deeper level, was obviously desired. The theme of repressed sexuality is rampant in all versions after the Nosferatu films, growing in explicitness until we have the extraordinary wanton portrayal of Lucy and then her physical destruction in the Coppola film. The first graphic stakings of the female body take place in the 1956 Fisher film, where we see the stake penetrating Lucy's body and the blood surging from her wound—the very punishment itself must remind us of the act of sexual intercourse. Though Lucy, as a prototype of a modern feminist, needs no such punishment in Badham's film, her counterparts in the novel and both Fisher's and Coppola's films are branded by the cross, a wound erased only with Dracula's death—"Unclean, unclean!" shout both women in the novel and Coppola's film version.

But let us not forget Jonathan Harker, who, in Stoker's novel, is masochistically overwhelmed by the three vampire women. Only with Coppola's recent work is repressed male desire pushed to the forefront of a Dracula film (the scene between Jonathan and these female vampires is never developed in either Browning's or Franco's film, where the three figures appear only briefly). But once we begin talking about repressed sexuality, especially in relation to sadism and masochism, we are into the subject of desire itself and find ourselves peeling off the layers and going further into the psyche. We must remember, throughout this part of my discussion, that where desire produces conflict, where there is a possibility of retribution for desire, an important defense of the ego is to make that which is desired


into a fearsome object; this concept is fundamental to an understanding of the human psyche as it develops in our earliest years as well as to our later emotional reactions to the horror film. This concept also explains the basic rationale for the Dracula figure.

The Oedipal Father

Here we bring together our first four themes, discovering that they may, indeed, be splittings and displacements for us of even deeper levels of psychic emotions and configurations. To some degree all of these Draculas are powerful and even God-like figures who threaten the other characters with violent sex and death. The conflation of these qualities suggests something implicit in the novel's count but a little more explicit in the visual images of older men violating younger women in the hidden recesses of their bedrooms in these films. We feel this oedipal resonance most strongly from the image of Bela Lugosi leaning over the throat of Helen Chandler, and Christopher Lee penetrating into the bedrooms of his female victims, in Fisher's and Franco's films, but we feel this level of recognition from all these films. I am referring to Dracula as the oedipal father, sexually desired by both male and female children, but I also wish to suggest that these bedroom scenes of erotic violence are suggestive of the child's fantasies about the primal scene, the imagined sexual violation brought upon the mother by the monstrous and powerful father.

We can take our oedipal reading a little further and see the issue of the son's feared punishment of castration for desiring the mother as relevant to the treatment of both Harker and Renfield—we especially remember the character of Harker in Fischer's film, who first receives two puncture marks on the side of the neck, two bleeding holes, and who is then dispatched by a stake through the heart. If we are willing to see these oedipal configurations in the basic myth, if we are willing to see Dracula as the fearsome oedipal father, then the reading of the story as a version of Freud's theory about the primal horde and the sons' slaying of the father to possess (or repossess) the mother as described in Totem and Taboo (141–46) have a certain validity (see Richardson, 428–29), as long as we remember that much in these films deals with the father's control over and intimidation of the young people and that normally only one of the younger generation, along with Van Helsing, is involved in the destruction of Dracula. Coppola's film, however, captures something of the excitement and deeper resonances of the novel as the three young men go in pursuit of Dracula and ultimately overwhelm the gypsy caravan to attack him. Only when the young are banded together under the leadership of Van Helsing, the good father, can the young men slay the evil father and claim the mother, in the


guise of Mina. We can see both Dracula and Van Helsing, for children of both sexes, as manifestations of the child's sense of the bad and good aspects of a single figure, as the splitting of the original father into two separate figures at war with one another. However, in Murnau's Nosferatu Van Helsing and the adult figures are seen as ineffectual, and in Herzog's remake of that film they are totally inept before the force of death that Dracula represents and that even the heroine's sacrifice cannot abet.

The Preoedipal Mother

We might think of the entire Dracula story as implicitly suggesting a regression from the genital to the oral stage, from desiring pleasure through normal sexuality to the more primitive stage of attempting to satisfy desire through the mouth. The very act of drinking blood from the body, though, is more than an attempt to find satisfaction through the mouth—it is an inverted memory of the child's hungry and sadistic taking of milk from the mother's breast.[10] Beginning with the vampire woman's protruding bosom in the Hammer film directed by Terence Fisher, most vampire films put heavy emphasis on this female part of the anatomy—one need only think of Sadie Frost's bare breast as Dracula puts the bite on her in Coppola's film, or even the elderly and slovenly Van Helsing, in the midst of cold winter before Dracula's castle and in the midst of his crusade to destroy the monster, being tempted in the same film to suck on young Mina's breasts. The movement of the mouth from breasts to neck (a movement literally and physically carried out by all the Draculas since Christopher Lee in 1956) and the change of milk to blood in the underlying fantasy to the Dracula myth is the result of an intensification of oral sadism conflated with a later awareness of the relation of blood to the mother's sexuality, primarily though an awareness of menstruation. The oral act has become both destructive and intensely sexualized. The Hammer vampire films were the first, with their vivid and bold color, to put the emphasis on the conjunction of female breasts and bright red blood—a particular lobby poster for Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), one of the many spin-offs from the 1956 film, shows a female neck with two bandages rising from a very developed bosom (Twichell, 111).

I suggest, however, that the image of the vampire sucking the blood of his victims conveys something more, conveys another inversion, where the mother becomes herself the sadistic punisher and taker of sustenance from the child. We can see the suggestions of this inversion in Coppola's film with the presence of the three vampire women—their breasts most obvious when they themselves feast off Jonathan Harker—but it is evident in a more direct way in the novel and in all these films when Lucy as a vampire desires


to suck the blood of young children. We must take this argument one step further, to the very chest of the count himself. Recall what Van Helsing and the young men in the novel see when they break into Mina's bedroom: "With his left hand he [Dracula] held both Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her at the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man's bare breast which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink" (287–88).

How can this be? Mina drinking blood from the count—and from his chest! I must emphasize once more the palimpsest nature of this figure, the fact that he is a creature of our repressed fantasies with a considerable amount of condensation. He is much more than one thing: he is a composite and configuration of various stages and also various desires and fears in our psychic history and topography. In Browning's film, Mina drinking Dracula's blood is slightly less distressing since she drinks from his arm and describes this dastardly scene as a distant dream. In both Badham's and Coppola's films the drinking is turned into an erotic act in which the heroine willingly imbibes the blood of her lover from his chest so that she will remain with him forever. Undoubtedly Dracula in these films is a highly sexualized male figure, but there is something more, something strongly implicit in his actions that resonates through his masculine facade. In the novel, Mina's drinking from the wound in his chest is an instance where this implicit meaning breaks through the surface. She is like a child drinking her mother's milk, but the gash on his chest also suggests the oedipal child's fantasy of the mother's castration and thus offers another explanation of the conversion of milk into blood.

But the violence of this scene reminds us that Dracula victimizes his partners and takes far more blood than he gives. The gash on the chest giving forth blood, a symbol both of castration and the vagina, must also remind us of the vampire's bloody mouth and fangs sucking the life out of his victims—and both these gashes are also suggestive of the fantasy of the vagina dentata, the vagina with teeth, that conveys the fear of the mother's genitals.[11] The image of Christopher Lee, in the early part of Fisher's Horror of Dracula, with his blood-dripping mouth torn across his face, made a remarkable impact on audiences of the time. I am suggesting that on some level the blood-drinking vampire is a product of the child's fear of and anger toward the mother, an impression of the woman when she fails to give the child what it wants and so seems to take from it: she is the feared maternal figure who is distinct from the good mother and the later-victimized oedipal mother. The bleeding wound she bares in the mind of the child during the oedipal stage is imposed upon her earlier image as an instru-


ment of destruction and terror. In this context we are on the threshold of also seeing this figure as the parental cannibal that Leonard Shengold finds symbolized by rats and teeth in fantasies of adult patients suffering from the childhood trauma of overstimulation.

The very terror of castration is clearest in the depiction of the Lucys of these films who, once bitten, themselves become biters only to ultimately have their bodies ripped open by the stake through the heart and, in the case of Franco's, Badham's and Coppola's films, their heads severed from their bodies. In these films the fear of castration is compensated for by a displacement onto the female bodies, a displacement that at first fetishizes the female body onto to mutilate it next. But each of these women is at first converted into the monstrous creature who imposes such bleeding wounds upon others. All of the vampire women can easily be seen in this context—my argument is that Dracula himself is the most violent and terrifying extension of this figure, violent and terrifying because he ultimately transcends any single sexual identity, because he ultimately victimizes both men and women.[12] We can trace his very roots to the child's fantasy of the mother from a time when she was undifferentiated according to gender but a version of the figure with the child's later oedipal fears imposed upon it.[13] The Dracula story, as all vampire stories, is inherently a hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, tale of children and parents torn from the terrors of our childhood years.

The Beast That Once We were

We delve deeper into our psyches now, so deep that we go hurling back into our genetic history. What I wish to suggest at this point is a reading of the novel and visual reading of the last Dracula film that is as much anthropological as psychological, a reading that Coppola more than all the other directors recognized in the count and his story. Our impression of the young people in the center of the film—the impression we often have of children play-acting at being adult—may destroy the dramatic credibility of the film, but such an impression also intensifies and eases the return to earlier times that we unconsciously feel, to childhood and infantile emotions and imagos, to both oedipal and preoedipal stages but also to a vague sense of a kind of polymorphous sexuality and pleasure we felt in our childhood. We confront in this film something more than sadistic and masochistic desire; we confront a kind of fetishism that lies beyond Freudian fetishism. Here kissing is not confined to the lips: the chest and neck are even more central to pleasure and desire; here the drinking of bodily fluids is an act of nourishment, pleasure, and even fusion. Here one drinks and is drunk. We trace these acts back, then, to our earliest months when we were


so much creatures of our bodies, when our fantasies were comprised largely of bodies and physiological functions, when we functioned so much on a basic animal level.

But we must push even further. Recall, if you will, Stoker's insistence on relating Dracula to animal life. Van Helsing tells us at one point, "[H]e can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat—the month, and the fox, and the wolf . . ." (243). More than this, Dracula is a shape-shifter and can become certain kinds of animals himself—the bat and wolf, for example.[14] Coppola's film explores this ability, not only allowing Dracula to appear as these last two creatures but also on occasion allowing him to appear in a half-human, half-animal state, emphasizing that with all his human attributes he also is an embodiment of the beast that remains within us.[15] Perhaps the most striking appearance in this state occurs when Mina discovers Dracula mounting Lucy between her legs, described in the screenplay as "a wet man or beast" (71), a description much akin to a similar one in Stoker's novel when Mina is unable to discern whether the figure leaning over Lucy is a "man or beast" (101). There is no question that Dracula in Stoker's novel and at certain points in Coppola's film is more like an animal than a human, that when biting flesh and drinking blood, when sexually violating women, he reminds us more of a beast in heat than a human lover. It seems fitting that sometimes he appears a wolf on all fours because, on occasion, his very act of lovemaking reminds us of our earliest animal state, when we were still quadrupeds, when the mouth had no limitations, when the nose and mouth pushed themselves into all parts of the anatomy of other quadrupeds, when sexuality, appetite, and violation were indistinguishable.

There have been numerous horror films dealing with our repulsion for the animal in us, a repulsion meant to defend against remnants of desire having to do with the animal state. I am reminded of horror films such as King Kong (1933) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), which deal implicitly with human evolution and which send us back along the evolutionary scale, forcing us to identify, to think that we recognize some earlier stage of animal life—suggesting that such memories and desires still remain residually within us. Perhaps the film that most directly deals with this fear is Island of Lost Souls (1933), where animals are turned into humans only to revert to their animal states. There are moments in all the Dracula films when something of this regression occurs, when something inside of us is unpleasantly stirred. Dracula is certainly a palimpsest, layer upon layer of psychological stages, a condensation of the very worst we have desired and feared. In some ways Coppola's film offers us the deepest insights into this figure, unflinchingly reducing his hero not so much to the beast that remains within us as to our very bestial origins.


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Preferred Citation: Horton, Andrew, and Stuart Y. McDougal, editors Play It Again, Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.