Sunday, November 6, 2011

Double Motion Study: Blood and Trash

(Antonio Banderas in The Skin I Live in/2011)
          A gloved hand sticks a hypodermic needle in to a plastic bag full of blood and slowly withdraws a sample. It is the hand of a mad doctor who specializes in reconstructive skin surgery. On the following shot of his studied, dark Spanish face, a naked, out of focus body is visible on an operating table just behind him. The doctor ejects a droplet of blood on to a microscope slide and there is a cut. Bees buzz around a bees’ nest. A faint zoom from what looks like some kind of gothic fish tank, outlined in red, blue swirling through the middle. It must all be blood cells. Dr. Ledgard’s hand places a glass slide over the slide with the drop of blood. The blood expands just enough to not drip off the sides. Strangely, it turns a less wicked, orange-red. The doctor’s hand tamed it. A hand that can tame blood can only belong to a dangerous person, such as Dr. Ledgard in Pedro Almodovar’s wonderful freak-out on film, The Skin I live in (2011).
            On unfocused film, in a hut on a tropical island, another doctor, this one a biologist, finds himself alone with a needle. This means some sort of experiment. He injects the needle in to his tanned arm. He removes it and drops the blood very slowly on to a set-up we can’t quite see, on a makeshift table. The low-angle shot brings his face out of focus. The blood droplets pool. He brings a microscope up to them and examines his own blood. Suddenly he seems, unlike anybody else in the surrounding film that is Lucio Fulci’s very trashy Zombie (1975), exalted. 


            Why did film choose blood as its fixation? Is it because it’s red, or is it because it comes from our bodies? It is not a mystery that in this most perverse art form, the only one that rewards perversity, it is the most universal, most life signifying of all bodily fluids that has completed the most concrete imagery, and elevated the highest number of trashy films. The mystery is what blood itself signifies. It cannot be called a metaphor for life/lust/envy/death, because it is also a metaphor for emotional extremes/illness/solitude/obsessive behavior. It is not possible to pin down (well, that’s because it’s liquid). Yet of the two mentioned films, only Zombie needs such a loaded image to elevate it; Almodovar’s The Skin I Live in is an outstanding achievement; a film that has been shrugged off due to its deliberate exhibitionism and the tiresome productivity of its director, it is in fact one of the few cathartically weird delights in recent cinema. Zombie is a cult film from the late 70’s made by a professional trash director of the Italian horror school. Yet both use blood in their most obtuse moments, and in one or more of their moments of pure cinema.
 Almodovar and Fulci both chose it because it is an easy fixation. More so, they managed to create a mirror; the obsessed skin surgeon and the exalted biologist are the plain representations of the film viewer, or the filmmaker; the one’s so fascinated by trash, they will take it upon themselves to make sure they watch it, jeer it, gasp at it, stare at it, inflict it on themselves to the end of cinema until they at last have understood the mystery of that central ingredient: blood.