Friday, August 30, 2013

The "mad scrapbook" as an art form in Ring 2, The Grudge (American version) and Sadako (Japanese), August 18 2013

In Ring 2, it turns out that several of the clues from a dream sequence had by Rachel, are to be found in a scrapbook-notebook kept by .Samara, or her mother. Of the plot element, I am not much concerned. But as a device, this is what I call the "mad scrapbook." The cover is in the dream, and, soon after, Rachel finds it in the Morgan basement, in a trunk

Then, it consists of writing and pictures, taped or glued into place

This can also include pictures cut out of various places, and given meaning by the writer, including classic paintings, recaptioned by personal assignation of meaning freely associating on personal themes expressed in other pictures.

But, basically, it is still a scrapbook, a place for keeping clippings, which, in the convention, are clues of psyche, and concern, and which are always denotatively marked with some sort of "psycho" effect, include intense circling

It also includes personal photos, so it is part photo album

And, in it, are contained a complete record of the mind of the keeper of the book. The movie associates this kind of book with psychological disorder, since it was kept by Mrs. Morgan as she mulled over the murder of her daughter. Later, further following clues, we go see Samara's mother.

Her psychologically gone state, a saint to mothers in trouble, is communicated by the fact that she sits all day busily cutting out newspaper articles for her personal scrapbook. The scrapbook is indistinct, but it is only a scrapbook, containing clippings of news stories

The suggestion of madness is made by the fact that she has stacks of newspapers in her room. The implication is that, not unlike Torrance typing All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy endlessly on sheet after sheet of paper in The Shining, when he should have been creating productive work, this is scrapbooking run amock, an empty going through the motions, not following any particular storyline to discern a conspiracy theory, but just for it to be done, for the cutting, and the collecting. And it is the meaninglessness of it that makes it mad. As such, then, the mad scrapbook is a sign of trouble, but still given credit for being creative, while psycho scrapbooking, old school, is a sign of madness per se.

The history of the scrapbook as a sign of mental illness runs deep in horror. In the 1975 TV movie Trilogy of Terror starring Karen Black, we see a classic example of just the sort of scrapbook that a psycho might keep.

This is "old school" in the sense that in its layout, it is very neat, it is focused on headlines, it is a document of news, and following of major stories. It is also neatly cut out and neatly arranged in nice patterns. There is also a telling handling of headlines, a weird kind of streamer, when detached from the newspaper, that takes on a life of its own as a major statement to be impressed into a book (in this sense, then, becoming more like a leaf pressed into a keepsake book--with roots deep in Victoriana. But what makes this different from a sane scrapbook, which would entail any star of a football team or up and coming starlet keeping in a scrapbook all one's clippings, in effect, being a personal clipping service for oneself, that or one's mother keeping the book, it has inverted to become a psycho desire for attention as in this case it is a serial killer who keeps news reports of the mysteries following her trail of murder and death. In this capacity, the keeping of the scrapbook bespeaks psycho narcissism, and also a kind of trophy-keeping, a making a shrine on a page for one's accomplishments, even if sinister.

The Trilogy scrapbook, from 1975, also derives from the end years of an epoch of real-life scrapbook keeping by millions of people in the modern era. In fact, before there was pinterest and Facebook, there were scrapbooks. People kept track of their lives, made note of their admirations, kept talismans and relics of their devotion to a cult, in scrapbooks. They also kept little poems and odds and ends that they wanted to keep and remember, taped to a page. I know of this convention because I participated in it in the 1960s.

By the way, the keeping of my scrapbook (now gone, but it had a big light green leathery old photo album look, and could be added to as it was structured like a stamp album) (note: I am told it exists, so will include at a later date) itself passed from a classic phase, to a more expressive phase, to a synthetic stage, to a decadent stage. That is, at first, it featured all coverage deemed important, about an important event, as articles were rearranged as in a personal newspaper (and we also "played a game" when young of creating our personal newspapers). I kept a full report of that sort for the Alaska Earthquake of 1963. But then as the keeping of all press began to seem tiresome, only headlines were kept, so it became more expressive. Often the headline would not fit, so it was cut and spaced out across the doublepage, and then, sometimes, was set at an angle and slanted up from lower left to upper right, and then other items put in the negative spaces. This expressive phase opened up space for other keepings, at which point the exclusive devotion of a scrapbook to newspaper was expanded to include ticket stubs, brochures, advertisements, pictures, other souvenirs, all of it taped down flat to the page (in this, as I found, my scrapbooking evolved toward where it was most of the time in 1918, as my grandmother kept a scrapbook at that time, and it was a combination of headlines, news items, poems, cards, letters and a few other odds and ends, it was synthetic). Finally, there did come a bit where every scrapbook came up against the point of "what's the point," and it began to degenerate into a mere going through the motions. This happened with mine when I never could figure out what to do with the excess of news coming from the space program. I think it is at this point that I broke medium and decided just to keep the whole paper.

But the key element that was absent from my actual scrapbooks, that only emerged later, after I broke the medium paradigm, was combining keeping clippings with extensive caption commentary on my part. This tendency likely derives from the mind as it sees in the world: there is eye, and there is the mind behind it, commenting on what it sees. This is how life is, how humans see. We see, so there is an image, then we think about it, so there is a caption. As a result of this connection, there is a longstanding interest in a medium in which image and writing are combined. This impulse goes back in writing at least into the era of intertextual illustrations, and continues today in FB page conventions. This is pretty common, and not worrisome. Any teenage girl still will have a notebook in which they doodle hearts then write I love Jeremy below it; and then there are hearts, and then more text, and on and on, interweaving the two. But when the text becomes highly driven in a narrative way, that spills out to the borders, through the margins, that might spill over the picture, that will involve pen in marking, circling the picture, this kind of violation of margins, intrusion of text onto image, and obsessive texting, it is this element, more than any other, that makes the mad scrapbook mad. The above is mad scrapbook, of a woman almost mad, because the writing is all over, then even when the photos are put in, the writing gives them no room, but fills up every bit of page space around them

(there is an element of this sort of scrapbooking not ventured here, but which is also of interest, in terms of charting out the elements of expressionistic word-picture art. This happens when the writing runs on over the picture, when, that is the writer tries to inscribe the picture, or mark it as his, by writing over it.

Another device is using the picture as a security measure, in which case there is secret writing under it. Which you would have to untape to get at. Still another way to increase secrecy or security, if a diary or journal--which at some point the mad scrapbook becomes--is written in a family situation in which violation of secrecy might be expected, is to tape secret pictures under other pictures, to write in cryptograms, or cryptically in symbols, and even to fold pictures several times, then to press them, like leaves or keepsakes, as often happens as the mad scrapbook impulse to flatten everything out like an insect on a page, under a picture, to keep them secret (in my experience, this kind of folded secret image would be of a romantic, sexual, sexual-creative or pornographic nature; by sexual-creative I mean it sometimes happens that for pure personal cult pleasure an image can be manipulated, for your own needs, and no others, and it is hidden away in this fashion for this purpose, especially in the manufacture of personal avatar imagery, the equivalent of internet images putting the faces of celebrities onto everyday pornography, assistant images to masturbatory episodes or 'affairs'; desire, longing, frustration, are extra emotions, often locked away in journals or scrapbooks, and can distort image keeping in this way). As is, then, this is a pretty straight, not very psycho, mad scrapbook, but in combining text and image, and then, in the movie, by including a breadcrumb trail of images from the dreamy Ring video redo, it is psycho). (this is a whole other topic, however, cryptic imagery in the context of cults).

In The Grudge (American version), we get another example of the mad scrapbook, very nicely insrumentalized. We are introduced to the book by way of pictures, and it always pictures of a woman, the wife killed in the original crime, for this, for having developed such a crush on Bill Pullman that she followed him around, ending up sighted in many of his pictures, which the husband somehow got his hands on

And then we see that these pictures are not placed in a book, but left out as part of a worktable or desk situation, which includes the notebook, or scrapbook (so, in fact, the scrapbook is subdivided into pictures and notebook). But it is noticed then that the pictures are either torn to pieces

Or the face of the wife has been cut out of all of the pictures. This means that the husband knew of the problem, and was mulling over what to do about it. To cut the face out of pictures is an act of picture voodoo, with the purpose of exorcising the person from the life lived as recorded in the photos. It is an act of expulsion, even excretion, in magic, this sort of behavior goes back to Egyptians writing curses on pots then

breaking them.

The fascinating aspect of this demonstration of symbolic killing, for that is what it is, symbolic killings always precede the real thing, in family annihilation scenarios, is that in 1990, or so, this very same idea was utilized by neoconceptual artist Curtis Mitchell at Andrea Rosen gallery, except that he mounted all the pictures on a sheetrock wall, had, apparently, to accentuate the rage behind the act of iconoclasm, done his expulsion by means of a blowtorch, and then, to complete the work, which he placed in the gallery as a kind of installation, he took a sledge hammer to it, and reduced it to broken pieces. In fact, in this movie, this act is joined to others, in a sequence, and instrumentalized as a series of leads to the secret that then paralyzes Pullman. The pictures are on the desk next to a notebook, a narrower example of a mad scrapbook

But it is a mad scrapbook because not only is it written on obsessively, violating borders and margins, but as mentioned above the writer has manipulated the paper on which it was written, the page, and the fact that the page exists in a book backed up by other pages, to draw an eye on the page behind it, then tearing a hole in the page on top, with edges, so that it opens up like an eye looking through the page (a very nice work of scrapbook art),

This eye is the ultimate clue, what we are after. That, based on where the iconoclasm led, the eye of the victim is watching. And so, the instrumentation increases, he sees on the door of a closet, all the cut out faces, taped up to the door, an amazingly interesting spin.

And then the camera closeups son some of the faces, especially the ones that are watching, looking,

The fact that some of the faces are pinned on with bloody fingers signals that this aspect of the ritual was done after the crime was committed, clueing us in to worse to come

This then signals that the closet has been dragged into the sequence, and the display of his anger and grief, and that in fact the closet has become a tomb, these images signal that there is something in the closet, and, when he opens it up, out it comes, the victim,

Of course, in keeping with what seems like a universal trope, the upside down face, the eyes looking out of it upside down, a haunting, evil eye, the eye of the dead then stares at Pullman, and paralyzes him

It is also, by the way, in this version, that the strange spider walk that the victim does is rationalized, and explained, as the desperate crawling, trying to get out from under the kicks and hits, the woman does, tumbling-crawling down the stairs, to get away from her husband

So, the mad scrapbook, but here beautifully instrumentalized by being extended to include in conception of it the pictures, then, the eye of the victim, a mixed time frame, before and after, an uncertain authorship, and then the pictures again, then what happened to the missing faces, which are on the closet, which then turn out to be signs that the body is in there, opened up, out it comes, and the curse of the eye of the dead. It is a beautiful piece of work, I almost want to say an inspired piece of work, extending upon the convention of the mad scrapbook. While in the Ring 2, the scrapbook is found, too easily, and, too patly, has on and in it, images that appeared to Rachel in a dream, clues to the mystery, the book itself is just that, an object found in a trunk in a basement, It's got some clues, and then it is disposed of. To activate the notebook by making it the site of the bizarre obsessive acts of the husband before and after the attack, and an actual instrument that leads, by way of the eye, and the photographs, to the discovery of the body, much better.

In the very poor Japanese movie Sadako, the directors play with the more public and large scale dimension of the curse as it might work in today's intermedial world of Japan. The movie is mostly about the image of Sadako coming off a computer screen, as dug up on an internet search. But, then, it only makes sense, if the image has come up on one screen, would not, in a world where, in Japan, screens have proliferated in the cityscape, and in a culture perhaps attuned to gargantuan representation, since Godzilla, so as a spooked girl is walking through the city, she looks up and sees the same thing coming from a large billboard screen

Later, more Sadakos come, en masse, out of a wall of screens, as one might see in public advertising zones

That this proliferation allows for a swarm of Sadakos to reach out en masse from the sets is rather fun

And Sadako even reaches out from, and sucks others into, one of those rolling screen advertising trucks,

All of this is pretty clever, as a publicizing of the private computer screen haunting (though, entirely stupid, on another level). But this impulse toward externalization also invests the discovery of the maker of the killer tape, a performance artist, whose loft is found. And when it is, there is a strange transformation, as a manuscript of some sort disperses, transformed into paper butterflies

And then, through that, as if introducing it, we see a wall in his studio, where he has been making 'art' except that it is not his art, but his bulletin board, his note keeping, his picture keeping, his schedule making, and then it spreads, and becomes something else, a kind of art

There are various clusters of text, as psycho text originates in spots, then spreads, virally, out to an end, then breaks, and it starts up from somewhere else, not like the pages of a book, but like a stain. Some of this seems to include pages of books taped to the wall, it has that ground about it, other is written directly on the wall, as in the central section here. Since, on the left, this writing runs right over into the coathooks, and the shelves, this means that it likely converts again into scheduling and bulletin board notekeeping, but boundaryless, as a psycho artist would. But then, on the right, it morphs entirely over into painting. The painting is not quite a painting, but a work of evil graffiti. It is a haunted image, come from inside his mind. It pictures, in fact, as we later find out, images of the girls rising out of the well, as in here,

She squats, her legs are insectly distorted, she has the long hair, she reaches, it is a threat image, a curse image, an evil visage of an evil presence, and we know from later CHI excess, that it represents these girls in the well.

And here,

How can we imagine how the girls got like this? I have skipped ahead, first of all, how are we talking about several girls. Well, as we explore the wall more carefully, we see that much of the writing is simply an incantatory chanting of her name, repeated endlessly,

As this litany turns into an excessive rant, and we are to respond similarly to it, as Shelly Duval to Torrrance's mad repetition, in The Shining (1980), we see that the pictures are not random, they are pictures of young women, often polaroids, indicating that he took them, and pinned next to pictures of places, suggesting encounters at such and such a place, and the caption tells us that in the name of Sadako he now has killed these girls, sacrificed them, so to speak, to her,

And so, in the tradition of the mad scrapbook, classic form, this wall is a cult wall, of sacrifice, a list and demonstration of sacrifices to the goddess she has become in haunting. So, the picture is a cult image, in a classic form (the fact that it came into his head in madness, however, suggests its evil nature, it is a curse image, an acheirodiptheria, an image not destroyed by human hands, but by another force), this is a shrine, and then the chanting is cult activity, in written form, and then he performs sacrifices to her, and leaves these votive works of art, their pictures, where they were killed, for her, and for his own record, to testify to himself of his devotion. In actual fact, then, the author of the killer videotape is a mad psycho killer sacrificing young women to Sadako's revenge. And he completes the murder by tossing them down the well where she lies dead, that then is a classic ancient sacred place, sacrifices made to the original cult image, her, in the waters. At this point, then, imagination must take over. What would a girl look like, after years of being submerged in the water. Just as in the Friday the 13th series, where Jason was a drowned boy who came back to life (and the similarities between Sadako/Samara and Jason are often poorly acknowledged), and then is chained to the lake bottom, becoming, sequel after sequel, more decayed, so they imagine that she turns grey, rotten, a skull, that only her hair survives, and as it spreads out on the surface of the well water like a weed, spreads, grows tremendously, but, in this instance, they imagine what might have happened to her, her limbs broken by the fall, but finding a way to move now, and rotted, and dislocated, and made rubbery and grey, so they climb up like an insect might, have insect reflexes, look more like a grasshoppers than a human's and thus move in the world as a kind of horrible spider, beetle or unspecified insect (deep down, in terms of deep sex, I believe that there is a subtext comment here on the subjugation of women today in the cult of the one-eyed monster, as these positions could also well be learned by the demands placed upon women in male pornography to assume any number of twisted up pretzel positions the better for the male to be received by her with new frictions and pleasures. The particular pose that the enshrined sadako takes is the position for oral sex, while the position inscribed on these spiders from the well is hard, pressed-down rear entry).

(which means that not only are these monsters created by a killer haunted by Sadako to act as her golem in seeking revenge; but also that they haunt men, as images of what men have done to them, in blind pursuit of sexual pleasure). In this way, then, in a motif similar to one used in the original The Omen, the mad scrapbook spreads in form and style over into space and onto walls and on the wall with that space becomes a cult space with a cult image that then has room to accommodate a further evolution to incantation, sacrifice and votive offerings. The movie Sadako is a mess, a CGI spaghetti code, but the externalization of the mad scrapbook motif is interesting--not the least because, as so much installation art today does often involve migration from notebook page to wall, it infers that a good deal of conceptual installational art has a dark side, outside the white cube, in an ancient cultic purpose, of an evil, psycho nature. This is, after all, art that kills, which is what sacrificial art, surviving in the modern world, is interpreted as. In every way, then, notebook notes, an expression of artistic agency, is effaced of intent by an implication of madness, and reverts in its function to devotee incantation to a prototype reality, seat of agency, a haunting cursed being, Sadako, who sucks the life out of modern art, and makes it magic conjuring once again.
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