Another feature of...
I will reluctantly admit that the title of this piece may seem laboriously academic to the uneducated reader, to whom those elusive sinews of metaphysics which bind the (albeit slipshod) products of ‘popular’ culture remain obscured by that culture’s gross and blinding gloss. However, the present title suggests an exercise in intellectual prodigy to which this author feels well acquitted, even if somewhat lacking in confidence in the cognitive aptitude of his likely audience. So then, let us begin our disquisition.
First, it is the probable perception of the audience that Jungle Hell is an unlikely point of departure from whence to venture toward the rarified peaks of metaphysics which leads me to admonish at the outset that Jungle Hell is not, in this regard, the point of departure but rather the point of arrival. The path which I traced toward this peak of philosophical introspection, and along which I must now attempt to guide the reader, was one of inspiration, namely the inspiration visited upon the author by a series of cinematic signposts of a like kind to, but of a lesser introspective quality than, Jungle Hell. And these signposts hastened past the author in an unbroken procession at this year’s B-Fest ("B-Fest" being the program description for an annual presentation of "B"-quality cinema features, which program is offered each January at Northwestern University here in our good city of Chicago), illuminating a steady progressive ascent to the thesis of this discussion, namely the comparative ontological schemas expressed by Hegel, on the one hand, and by Jungle Hell, on the other. Therefore, I must now attempt to lead the audience along that arduous upward path with the hopes that I have invested at least some among the vulgar public with sufficient curiosity to follow along by holding up the final thesis in advance like some gaudy bauble. However, that bauble comes at no modest price; for, as Nietzsche observed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, to reach "the highest mountains" of introspection, one "must first go down deeper than [one has] ever descended -- deeper into pain than [one has] ever descended, down into its blackest flood." Therefore, I must describe the movies selected for this year’s B-Fest.
For anyone who actually read my review of B-Fest last year, you will undoubtedly recall... nothing of what I wrote. Therefore, before embarking on what can be accounted a sequel to that review -- namely my ontological commentary on this year’s film pageant -- I feel compelled to begin by a prefatory encapsulation of last year’s critique. Last year, I mused that when I found myself sitting in a theater trying to pick some lame dialogue out from the tumult of jeers and catcalls for the 7:35 p.m. feature film, Earth vs. the Spider, I suffered a realization that my life had been wasted. This year was a much different experience insofar as I found myself sitting in a theater trying to pick some lame dialogue out from the tumult of jeers and catcalls for the 7:20 p.m. feature film, Invasion of the Saucer Men, before wincing under the even more acute and poignant realization that my life has been wasted.
And while last year I characterized Earth vs. the Spider as offering up a gaggle of actors unconvincingly playing to a clumsily matted-on tarantula effect, Invasion of the Saucer Men could be distinguished as offering up a gaggle of actors unconvincingly playing to a pack of smallish persons wearing giant papier-mache alien heads. The best means of describing the visage of these creatures is by way of reference to Rocko’s supervisor at the picture-novel store, Mr. Big Head; a principal difference, of course, is that Mr. Big Head is much more emotive (and interesting), and much less likely to be evaporated by car headlights.
However, the Saucer Men were not meanly depicted as totally lacking in talent. Most obviously, the film suggests that their culture adopted and honed the unique skills of the American ‘cowboy,’ making the average Saucer Man a bronco buster par excellence; the most rational explanation for this proficiency is that at the same time that Europe caught ‘Western fever,’ and was seduced by the perceived romance of the American Old West with its cowboys and Indians, and gunslingers, the same mania swept Planet Saucer Man; one can imagine the consequent obsession among Saucer Men for line dancing, chewing tobacco, and mechanical bulls. A virtuoso exhibition of the Saucer Men’s rodeo skills is actually depicted in the subject movie, where one of these creatures skillfully mounts a furious bucking steer for what appears to be several yards even after having one of his huge papier-mache eyes gouged out by the beast’s massive horns. As a fascinating side note, this footage from the 1950s also provides possibly the first visual record of the animus between space aliens and livestock which has sadly culminated in a long and bloody history of cattle mutilations, a phenomenon well documented by subsequent film commentaries on extraterrestrial visitation.
In any event, while the reader may find these digressions from the subject in main, that being metaphysics, tedious, they are nevertheless integral. For the foregoing insights into the civilization of the Saucer Men provided the first intuitive sparks which were ultimately to ignite the white-hot lantern of intellect, my own of course, which would burn off the (rather thick) fog of sleepy-headed-ness and illume the metaphysical panorama of the night’s proceedings. The reader will shortly be invited to countenance that intellectual illumination. However, good prudence toward my likely audience dictates alighting that beacon only gradually, as to enkindle it instantaneously would like to be suddenly fixing a large industrial spotlight upon a newt long accustomed to dark cave-dwelling; the newt would quickly lose its wits and go demented from the glare, and be consigned to living out the remainder of its days in a mad-house (or possibly a terrarium stocked with albino crickets). Therefore, I shall lead the reader upon the same gradual path which I followed to my own abstract realization, just as Virgil led his ward to the brink of the angelic lattice-work of the celestial vaults.
And so, along the way to that Elysium, we must first pause Beneath the Planet of the Apes. We all know the story from Planet of the Apes; bungling interstellar travelers from Earth somehow manage to wreck their spacecraft against the surface of a desolate planet, inundate their ship with pond water, at last sending inestimable billions of dollars of aerospace hardware to an ignominious and watery tomb. They thus unwisely bargain their spaceship for an inflatable water-vessel, and slip discretely away from the scene of their costly ineptitude. Nor is this the end of their self-imposed travails; almost immediately upon learning that the planet is inhabited by semi-intelligent apes who have made no further technological advance than wooden carts and horse-borne conveyance, the explorers fall into captivity by these simian creatures. The audience discovers that these apes have constructed crude stone cities, and that they hold dominion over human-beings, who are mere savages on this world, and even less couth than the ape-men. In the end, only one of the explorers survives the captivity, namely Charlton Heston, but only after having become romantically involved with a savage-woman whom he courts during confinement. In the final scene, Mr. Heston rides along a sea-coast of this ape-planet by horse along with his savage-woman, and discovers that the apes had somehow crafted a statue that looks almost exactly like the Statute of Liberty; for some inexplicable reason, he becomes very agitated, and the film simply ends; this really seemed to go nowhere for me.
In the sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, another spacecraft is fed into the voracious maw of incompetence to determine the whereabouts of Charlton Heston and his erstwhile crew, unaware that the ship being sought after was now being piloted by fish. Of course, the ‘rescue’ craft pulls an Oswald Boelke and proceeds to crash into the same planet with sufficient force to kill all but one of its complement. One is led to conclude from all of this that future aerospace programs will do away with such unmanly contrivances as flight and landing simulators, with pilots trusting their interstellar steeds rather to the daring ‘spit and windage’ techniques which spirited the barnstormers of the early days of flight.
In any event, the surviving rescuer, having reduced the instrument with which to actually effect a rescue into a high-tech landfill, nevertheless imperturbably pursues his appointed task. Inexplicably, not only does the sole survivor of the extraction team emulate his rescuees by demolishing his charge, he also almost immediately falls hostage to the ape-men upon discovering their existence; what are the odds? In yet another original plot device, he eventually escapes from these creatures along with Charlton Heston’s (re-captured) savage companion. While secreting himself from pursuing soldier-apes, the rescuer enters a cave opening and discovers the remains of a New York subway, realizing that this is no ape-planet at all but rather Earth after a nuclear misadventure. The rescuer also discovers a subterranean race of humans who worship a surviving nuclear warhead affectionately christened "the Alpha and the Omega." Anyway, the rescuer is at last united with Mr. Heston; ape-soldiers invade the subterranean city, and the savage-girl gets killed. Mr. Heston and the rescuer proceed to the silo where the Alpha and Omega is lovingly preened by its subterranean acolytes, seemingly to prevent its being detonated; however, when his colleague is killed by ape-soldiers in the ensuing fire-fight, Mr. Heston summons his own dying strength to trigger the warhead and incinerate the planet, presumably in a gesture of outrage at the destructiveness of these future Earth-dwellers.
The next film on the agenda was House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price. In this film, Mr. Price invites a group of people to stay overnight at a mansion-house legendary for its tragic history of bloodshed, promising a large sum of cash for anyone who stays -- and survives -- the night. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this moving-picture drama is the presence of an acid bath in the basement of the mansion, covered with a crude wooden trap-door. Although many persons observing the film likely noted some irregularity in accoutering a mid-Twentieth Century home with a large acid bath, few are probably educated enough to realize that such baths were commonplace comforts to North American homes of the late Nineteenth Century. Indeed, the most remarkable status-symbol of Colonial-era homes of the well-to-do North American bourgeoisie were their beautifully ornate basement acid baths, often incorporating such whimsical motifs as fish or sea-nymphs spouting gentle geysers of acid. The most famous of such acid baths, of course, is that found in the wine cellars of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, noted for its austere melding of classical architectural forms, its clean lines, and its lethal acid fumes.
Indeed, archaeologists have recently speculated that the fabulous Roman baths constructed by the Roman Emperor Caracalla in the early Third Century, A.D., were not filled with water at all but rather with thousands of gallons of acid; according to such experts, this would help explain the severe erosion sustained by the structure over the last two-thousand years or so, as well as the increasing depopulation which caused Rome to rely ever more heavily on foreign mercenaries to defend its extensive borders. In any event, acid baths became less and less prominent over time, probably due to a few careless persons ruining a generally beneficial resource. At last, rising acid bath-related insurance costs, and a corollary impetus toward consumer safety, caused the very few acid baths remaining in the 1960s to be drained and filled with murky piranha-infested water.
I believe that I have elaborated enough on House on Haunted Hill; therefore, I shall now turn to the next feature of the evening, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Of course, I wrote briefly about this moving-picture in my piece regarding last year’s B-Fest. Therefore, I have little to add to this year regarding this attraction. Nor did this film lend itself to the intellectual ruminations which occurred from the preceding features. It was simply too silly. For instance, I find it unlikely that aliens would raid the wardrobe room of a high school drama department in order to uniform their invasion task force leader, and then select a medieval-theme tunic sewn for a madrigal dinner. Nor do I believe that extraterrestrials would visit this planet without mutilating some cattle; on that note, Invasion of the Saucer Men offered a much more realistic portrayal of aliens, which I have found to usually be much more latex-like or papier-mache-like in appearance than those presented in Plan 9. For instance, the alien bodies which witnesses reported at the 1947 Roswell crash site had a latex prosthetic-type appearance; these reports have recently been confirmed by the recent shocking footage of the autopsy of one of these unskilled alien pilots, presumably principally performed to determine the creature’s blood-alcohol level.
Nor were the military officials portrayed in Plan 9 typical in their desire to suppress evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. For instance, and again referring to Roswell, the Air Force has recently forthrightly disclosed that there no such conspiracy existed; rather, the alien bodies discussed by witnesses had a latex appearance due to the fact that they were synthetic crash test dummies dropped from balloons; and, indeed, such a perfectly rational explanation leaves one wondering why it did not occur to everyone sooner. And the veracity of this latest disclaimer is reinforced by the fact that it is totally inconsistent with the numerous prior accounts posited by the Air Force over the last fifty years or so. Indeed, the military’s apparent policy of resurrecting suspicion time and time again over the course several decades in order to dismiss that suspicion from the public’s mind is yet another sterling example of our government’s aptitude for intelligence-related activities; given this aptitude, I am certain that were aliens to crash on this planet, our government would alert nearby citizens to ensure that those residents could inadvertently rouse the occupants of the foreign ship into employing its death-ray.
However, and in any event, it is much more likely that alien governments would deny the existence of earthlings, fearful that their own planetary populations would emigrate en masse to a sphere not inhabited by violent sand-creatures, flesh-eating plants, or giant spiders. Now that I have also written at some length about Plan 9, I feel that I can turn to the next evening feature, Dracula 1972 A.D.
It is well known that vampires are frequently the victims of their own indifference, often straying too far from their coffins immediately before sunrise, or being lulled into fatal indiscretion while mooning over reincarnations of former lovers. Dracula 1972 A.D. graphically illustrates this propensity of such creatures to a level of clumsiness which is difficult to reconcile with the years of experience attendant upon their immortality. For instance, in the very opening scene, we observe Dr. Van Helsing struggling with Count Dracula on a racing horse-driven coach. After a time, the coach disengages from its team, sending the coach, Van Helsing and the immortal Dracula catapulting off the road. Somehow, Dracula, the Prince of Darkness himself, emerges from the wreckage impaled with the spokes of half a wagon wheel. The film then travels forward to the 1970s where people no longer suffer under the cruel shadow of vampires; this is probably a consequence of the fact that this decade arrayed itself in clothing so hideous that it should readily have frightened away even the most unholy of such creatures; of course, this fashion phenomenon is painfully manifest in the subject film. In any event, I had indicated at the outset of my discussion regarding this film that it enjoyed one remarkable -- indeed thematic -- aspect, that being the clumsiness of Dracula and his cohorts.
Again, we open the feature with Dracula impaling himself on a wagon wheel, presumably sometime in the 1800s. The movie then depicts Dracula’s resurrection in the 1970s by an acolyte. Then, at some later point in the film, Dr. Van Helsing’s grandson confronts the acolyte-turned-vampire in the creature’s own apartment. The confrontation begins with Dr. Van Helsing’s grandson holding a crucifix to put the creature to flight. Nevertheless, the acolyte, apparently forgetting that he had previously prevailed upon Dracula to turn him into a vampire as well, then elects to snatch the hated object out of Dr. Helsing’s hands. The predictable reward for this inattentiveness is a deep crucifix-patterned burn in the palm of the vampire’s dominant hand. The acolyte, possibly frightened by his own shocking stupidity, flees to an upstairs bathroom fitted with an overhead skylight, with further predictable -- and fatal -- results for this novice creature of darkness. At last, Dracula himself is defeated once again when Dr. Van Helsing coaxes him into a gaping uncovered and uncamouflaged pit filled with giant wooden stakes.
In short, this film perpetuates the mean portrayal of vampires as clumsy wretches. However, again, such a portrayal is at odds with vampires’ probable worldliness given their immortal qualities. It is just such qualities which likely provoke vampires into pondering larger universal questions concerning good and evil, questions which the cinema shows them being wont to discuss upon occasion at tedious length. It is therefore likely that vampires exhibit the same self-destructive socio-pathology described by Dr. Sigmund Freud as masochistic wish-fulfillment in his famous work, Interpretation of Dreams. In this book as it relates to masochistic wish-fulfillment, Dr. Freud describes a dream by a younger brother with homosexual incestuous overtones toward his elder in which harm is visited upon the dreamer by the senior sibling. The relationship between this dream scenario and vampires is obvious.
The younger brother, like the typical vampire, realizes that his conduct is wrong, and therefore thinks that "[i]t would serve me right if [I were punished]." This dream sequence is, of course, merely a paradigm for the imperative of natural law described by Immanuel Kant. Kant points out that man -- and impliedly vampires and mummies -- cannot set up a law or rule of living which is contrary to that which is "Eternally Right." One can no more ignore such laws, which are a priori true, than ignore that natural reason with which one is in constant commerce, and which laws such reason will always re-visit upon one. Therefore, vampires, like the young brother in Freud’s example, impale themselves in an act of masochistic wish-fulfillment, which ultimately derives from Kantian moral imperatives (and latent homosexual-incest fantasies). As Dr. Freud suggests in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, our ‘accidents’ often trace the contours of our desires; again, how else do we explain Dracula ‘accidentally’ tumbling into a giant pit of wooden stakes unless, in a fit of introspection, he thought ‘it would serve me right if I were punished.’
Indeed, it is probably just such thinking which deposited me in a chair for the next feature film, Jungle Hell. To this day, I cannot determine whether I surveyed Jungle Hell before or after watching It Came From Outer Space, another feature of the evening; nevertheless, this lasting disorientation testifies, I believe, to the powerful effect that Jungle Hell can exercise over the human mind. Indeed, my own intellect, having already feasted upon such manna as Invasion of the Saucer Men and Dracula, 1972, A.D., was now fuel for the intuitive flash which was to be ignited by the labyrinthine world-view expressed by Jungle Hell. I am confident that the reader, by now, can see that the foregoing insights into such things as the psychopathologies of the living dead indeed provided the first intuitive sparks which were ultimately to ignite that white-hot lantern of intellect of which I wrote earlier, and which lantern reached its flash point when exposed to Jungle Hell. I feel consequently assured that I can at last invite the reader to countenance that intellectual illumination.
I must begin, however, with an explanation that, by an act of serendipity, I had carried a copy of The Science of Logic into the auditorium wherein year’s B-Fest was exhibited, having come directly from dispatching certain of my duties as a counselor at law. Hence, when Jungle Hell began to play upon the screen -- and it occurred to me that I could not make any sense of it its seemingly incongruous juxtapositions of (mostly) stock footage and live action scenes which appeared to have no possible rational relation to each other -- I realized that I was in the face of something so profound that only by reference to equally arcane and cryptic material could I decipher its meaning; hence, by what greater fortune could Hegel have been close at hand? I therefore heatedly rushed out of the theater clutching The Science of Logic and my copious notes regarding the same in the hopes that Hegel and Jungle Hell could one illume the other.
I thus brought myself to recall that the essential point of The Science of Logic is, of course, that of an attack on the empiricist evisceration of the ‘science of logic’ from the ‘science of metaphysics,’ resulting in an ontological schema wherein the empirically provable ‘concrete’ world -- which can be defined through mathematical and other logical formalisms -- provides the vantage from which one can deduce the -- separate -- metaphysical world expressed in abstract philosophy. In other words, Hegel rejects the view best expressed by John Locke, that man exists in an empirically provable ‘concrete’ world, by the observation of which we can deduce, through a process of determining what is ‘reasonable’ and ‘unreasonable,’ that which transcends that concrete world, and which is therefore ‘beyond reason,’ beyond the ‘concrete,’ and thus metaphysical -- and Divine. Hegel, to effect his attack, turns this schema on end, suggesting that the mathematical formalism of logic should not be utilized as a mere brace to abstract philosophy, but that logic, since it is the science which defines the process of thought, ought to be put into its proper perspective; to put logic into proper perspective is to say that: since the process of logic is indeed the process by which reason, which is pure spirit, negates intuitive (or unconscious) understanding, and in that void consciously reconstitutes and distinguishes the particular and the universal; and to the extent that reason is therefore dialectic in nature, and the particular and the universal are being ever negated and reconstituted by consciousness; to the extent that consciousness therefore "frees itself from its own [unconscious] immediacy and external concretion," and that the "pure essentialities" of logic are "pure thoughts [, pure consciousness], spirit thinking its own essential nature;" to the extent of the foregoing, this "self-[dialectic/]movement [of pure thought, which movement proceeds in a -- logical -- pattern] is their spiritual life [, the life, or existence, of pure thoughts, and] is that through which philosophy constitutes itself and of which it is the exposition."
Although the foregoing proposition is simple enough, it remains to be said that Hegel seems to take the view that the nature of consciousness is a process, a dialectical spiritual continuum, of negation and redefinition (the process of thought, properly, being another way of saying ‘logic’), and that the nature of consciousness is at the heart of philosophy, that consciousness defines philosophy, and that philosophy, is, in turn, ultimately a roadmap of consciousness, the contours of which can be traced and navigated to lead one from the idioms and signposts of consciousness (which find their expression in philosophy) back to consciousness itself, back to an appreciation of the -- logical -- operations of consciousness itself.
By the foregoing world view, Hegel, of course, implies -- without saying as much outright given the (theistically oriented) time at which The Science of Logic was published (ca. 1812) -- that philosophy does not seek absolutes external to man’s consciousness, like God (as does Locke) or an over-arching metaphysical plane of Ideals (as does Plato), with the aid of, say, a separate formalistic logic, but rather seeks to understand only man’s consciousness itself, and, in fact, becomes the product of man’s consciousness alone, like logic and every other science. Philosophy therefore becomes lost in an internalized anthropocentric dialectic introspective which promises the revelation that consciousness alone, man’s consciousness alone, is the creator. Hegel, perhaps foreseeing the shattering socio-political (as well as religious) consequences of this schema (indeed, Hegel is the succor of such later totalitarian thinkers as Giovanni Gentile), writes that "even those who are opposed to the new ideas have become familiar with them and have appropriated them, and if they continue to speak slightingly of the sources and the principles of those ideas and to dispute them, still have accepted their consequences and have been unable to defend themselves from their influence; the only way in which they can give a positive significance and content to their negative attitude, which is becoming less and less important, is to fall in with the new ways of thinking." Therefore, Hegel leaves us with the hope today that the brutal murder of his gentle student, Giovanni Gentile, by Communist partisans in 1945 will be avenged by the realization of the (more perfect) totalitarian/syndicalist State.
Armed with such insights, I felt as though there were no better time to watch Jungle Hell, or the balance of it. Nor had my venture into Hegelianism failed to provide a compass by which to chart the obscure meanings of this movie. Having been intellectually invigorated by the elixir contained in The Science of Logic, the ontological panorama of Jungle Hell opened before me. It became apparent that Jungle Hell had something to do with the elephants and tigers inhabiting India, and that these creatures were probably controlled by spaceships, which spaceships may or may not have had something to do with an airplane crash and some radioactive rocks, all of which probably had something to do with a scientific breakthrough revealed at the end of the movie which possibly came to the attention of the United Nations.
Therefore, it can be seen that, while Hegelianism bespeaks a world-view wherein ‘reality’ is merely a product and expression of -- ultimately human -- consciousness, Jungle Hell seems to suggest a world which is equally disconnected from the – mundane – day-to-day world which is associated with, man’s, perception of what is ‘possible’ or ‘impossible’ within the context of our, empirically affirmed, experience. In other, words, Jungle Hell, in its implicit (and explicit, in its depiction of shamanism) context, carefully constructs a model of the universe which can be clinically defined as ‘magical.’ Therefore, the ontological connectivity between products so seemingly disparate at first blush, namely The Science of Logic and Jungle Hell, readily appears through the oft-repeated words of Jean-Paul Sartre.
As Sartre pointed out in possibly the preeminent exposition of existentialism, Being and Nothingness, "[m]odern thought has realized considerable progress by reducing the existent to the series of appearances which manifest it... [Hence, t]he appearance refers to the total series of appearances and not to a hidden reality... To the extent that men had believed in [Kantian] noumenal realities [, and, of course, Plato can be accounted as the progenitor of this belief-system], they had presented appearance as a pure negative." To Sartre’s thinking, the consequent ‘dualism’ -- familiar from Plato, to Descartes, to Locke, and even arguably in such theistic schemas as the Bible or the Gita – embarrassed philosophers due to the difficulty involved in asserting an appearance (phenomenon) of the thing in itself (noumenon) immune to absorption into the noumenal.
"But if we get away from what Nietzsche calls ‘the illusion of worlds-behind-the-scenes [such as those proposed by, say, theism],’" the appearance constitutes the extant (the subjectivity of consciousness alone), and, as Husserl would argue, phenomenon becomes "relative-absolute." In other words, Kant’s idea that there is a ‘double relativity’ wherein the phenomenon "point[s] over its shoulder to a true being which would be, for it, absolute illustrates a paradox wherein "phenomenon has replaced the reality of the thing [in itself] by the objectivity of the phenomenon," with the object reduced to nothing more than the appearance, and therefore the infinite range of impressions which it can make upon the subject. Kant therefore seeks to stamp upon the thing in itself the qualities of phenomena to illustrate the world of the ‘in itself,’ the true, the ‘concrete.’ However, it is just this -- ultimately subjective -- phenomenological approach which causes the essentiality of the thing in itself to reflect back as -- subjective -- appearance only.
Without digressing too far from the importance of Jungle Hell to the mainstream of modern consciousness, into the incidental works of Sartre or Nietzsche for instance, I believe that it is now obvious to the reader that consciousness, like any other thing-in-itself, is free to range in a Husserlian phenomenological world of the "relative-absolute." Hence, as observed in Being and Nothingness, the world is ‘rational’ or ‘magical’ depending on how consciousness, the "for-itself" as described by Sartre in more detail, chooses to experience it; the conclusions which can be drawn from the foregoing as to the comparative world-views of Hegel and Jungle Hell are so obvious that the author feels that to elaborate upon them now would be tedious -- and, worse, a pointless dissipation of intellectual effort which would be completely inconsistent with a thesis dedicated to the ontological implications of Jungle Hell.
Andrew A. Muchoney, Esq.