1990′s The Reflecting Skin, directed by Philip Ridley, is a weird movie and rather obscure. It’s very interesting, and quiet, bizarre, grotesque, over-the-top, and terribly beautiful, all at once. Visually, it’s amazing. The cinematography is gorgeous, very unforgettable. It has such atmosphere… Eerie, chilling, ominous, cryptic, ascetic yet lush. Admittedly some of the acting is just god-awful (especially the child actors!), but the movie overall is kind of brilliant. Destined to be thought terrible and intolerable by many, I loved it. It is quite possibly the movie that most embodies an “American Gothic” quality/aesthetic, a haunting sense of desolation and hopelessness, mirrored by the land, and a hypocritical, unforgiving puritanism.
Taking place in rural America in the 1950s (whose landscape of yellow wheat fields and desolate, isolated, gray wood frame houses standing in the midst of them is shot very impressively and gorgeously), The Reflecting Skin is, sort of, about child abuse, innocence, imagination, death, mortality, and love. The main character is a young boy named Seth Dove who creates an elaborate fantasy around a mysterious, otherworldly-seeming English widow who lives nearby, believing her to be a vampire who is preying on his loved ones. I suppose it’s partly about the unimaginable innocence of youth… Instead of registering and owning a sense of evil in the world, Seth displaces it onto this mysterious figure, a source of external, supernatural evil, thus allowing him not to understand these strange, horrific, traumatic events around him.
The “vampire,” pale, regal, and obsessive, is such a strange, lovely, macabre, spectral, enigmatic character, with the most absolutely haunting speeches, remote yet intense, vehement, and unnerving meditations on aging and love. Icily menacing yet alluring, preternaturally quiet with sudden outbursts of piercing, violent, grotesque, deeply primal, forlorn emotion, mercurial as a madwoman, she was played pretty much to perfection by Lindsay Duncan. She should be an iconic figure, in my opinion.
This movie is fascinating, and even if you end up not liking it, you should definitely see it. The cinematography alone is worth it.
The entirety of the film (from the Japanese DVD) is up on YouTube.
Tags: 1950s, abuse, bizarre, children, cryptic, dark, film reviews, fragility, hauntingly beautiful, innocence, innocence/menace, macabre, metaphors, puritanical, religion, sexuality, strange beauty, surreal, surreal horror, trailers, vampires, visceral, witchy
It was a place of force -
The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,
Tearing off my voice, and the sea
Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead
Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.
I tasted the malignity of the gorse,
Its black spikes,
The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers.
They had an efficiency, a great beauty,
And were extravagant, like torture.
There was only one place to get to.
The paths narrowed into the hollow.
And the snares almost effaced themselves –
Zeroes, shutting on nothing,
Set close, like birth pangs.
The absence of shrieks
Made a hole in the hot day, a vacancy.
The glassy light was a clear wall,
The thickets quiet.
I felt a still busyness, an intent.
I felt hands round a tea mug, dull, blunt,
Ringing the white china,
How they awaited him, those little deaths!
They waited like sweethearts. They excited him.
And we, too, had a relationship -
Tight wires between us,
Pegs too deep to uproot, and a mind like a ring
Sliding shut on some quick thing,
The constriction killing me also.
- Sylvia Plath, 1965
‘Darling, they’ve found the body’ comes from a series of dreams – a body is buried beside a house, a house on stilts, the body has lain there for many years, i always knew it was there but consciously obscured it from view by willfully dimming the lights, the body is my body and i have been murdered by my ‘once upon a time’ lover turned keeper, i scrimshaw this dream onto liz bonami, the blonde dream doll with pernicious eyes lest i forget (when i lived on a boat my father would scrimshaw ships and birds and the letters of our names onto whales’ teeth we bought from a danish bank robber, we would sell these to buy food and make necessary repairs), my apparent self-imposed incarceration means i scratch messages onto the walls of my cell as i wait out my final hours, i try to make sense of the floating debris of letters, unpaid bills and medical records that seem surely to be a poor suggestion of a life, i self-portrait the face that accuses me and demands that i make good my escape, while i sit ludicrously passive watching the pot boil dry…
my sewing machine enables a solipsist god complex to spin out her own creation myth, where time stops and ‘the one who knows’ will come riding by on his ship, up the iron river and i will be waiting pretty as a picture so here i am, an impenetrable snaggle-toothed old crone stirring the secrets of my omniverse…the butterflies are notches on my belt as 39 years flutter by i am reminded of a dream where i live alone in a beautiful cottage in the forest in bavaria, by day i paint self-portraits with a solipsistic narcissism, by night i hunt, i am a wolverine i am reminded of another story – a woman sitting on her roof because of the floods, the water is rising fast, she has been told by God to wait there for a miracle, three times a man comes by in a boat to rescue her and each time she says ‘no, God has told me to wait here for a miracle,’ the water levels continue to rise and the woman drowns, when she gets to heaven she stands accusingly before her God and says why did you not perform the miracle that you promised me and her God says i came by three times and each time you sent me away
- KatieJane Garside, 2007
When the low, heavy sky weighs like a lid
On the groaning spirit, victim of long ennui,
And from the all-encircling horizon
Spreads over us a day gloomier than the night;
When the earth is changed into a humid dungeon,
In which Hope like a bat
Goes beating the walls with her timid wings
And knocking her head against the rotten ceiling;
When the rain stretching out its endless train
Imitates the bars of a vast prison
And a silent horde of loathsome spiders
Comes to spin their webs in the depths of our brains,
All at once the bells leap with rage
And hurl a frightful roar at heaven,
Even as wandering spirits with no country
Burst into a stubborn, whimpering cry.
— And without drums or music, long hearses
Pass by slowly in my soul; Hope, vanquished,
Weeps, and atrocious, despotic Anguish
On my bowed skull plants her black flag.
© 2009-2013 Synesthesia Garden