nathaxnne wilhelmina’s review published on Letterboxd :
i retired from letterboxd over bone tomahawk. i had given bone tomahawk 4.5 stars because it seemed like a knowing and meditative work on the intersection of the Italian Cannibal Cycle and The Western which it totally is. i didn't understand at the time that Bone Tomahawk was the first Trump Horror. Later when I read an interview with Zahler and an article about the production company he works with it is clear they are explicitly authoring MAGA-sploitation which is something i find interesting but ultimately cannot countenance. i no longer stand by my review but i don't want to delete it. i keep trying to write ANOTHER Bone Tomahawk review which i still might do or watch the Vince Vaughn movie and write about that but I know that animating fire in S. Craig Zahler i think and he might have been me at some point or vice versa but he is like 'I just like INTENSE THINGS' and so that is why racism and Mel Gibson and Nazi Black Metal and I too once bought a Burzum shirt in 2000 but regret ever doing so. The fact that it springs from where I also come from freaks me out. I have been re-evaluating my relationship to exploitation and horror in light of where I am at now and I have been a member of 'whatever as long as it is hardcore' but that is lazy and it allows you to experience the joy of fascist aesthetics without having to own that and i cannot enjoy fascist art without reckoning with myself. Every so often some brilliant troll points out to letterboxd that i have in fact awarded Triumph Of The Will 5 stars and that is absolutely true. I think it is a great film. I feel how art is there in real time shaping reality so as to prepare reality to accept atrocity gladly and feel strong and powerful in the forceful arc and weight and forward velocity of a totalitarian state except the problem is this: that fascist art has no hold on the future. it can only ruminate over a stolen, corrupted or failed past a past whose immediate tensions and contradictions altered it over and over again until it is bleeding into another more sustainable form of reality. Bone Tomahawk isn't what i thought it was or also something else which is: under what conditions is it ok to be psyched to watch a movie about cowboys killing indians? i mean, i was psyched to watch it and now i feel sick. i do not want to retrofit a future to make the atrocities of the past acceptable. they will never be acceptable. no outcome will ever render them so. i want a future, even a future which i cannot inhabit, a future which is not like what has gone before, but whose roots can be traced into the past a future which we can construct together through dialogue and conflict and illumination. there is so much we do not know about ourselves about others about our world. the world can be made anew by our effort and we can make ourselves anew in this process. we are not perfect. we are fallible. i feel sick because I do not want a nostalgia for 1970's and 1980's exploitation horror to dominate how i see our current era and how i understand it. The Trump Era represents a desire to return to a 1980's where it was ok to be gross and racist and violent and misogynist and homophobic and there were no trans people who weren't Times Square Hookers. I value 1970's exploitation because of how troubled it is, how it wrestles with a rudderless world and acknowledgement of real injustice, real pain, real violation and the volcanic forces which brought about such a world. i don't want to go back to a fake reified 1970's and 1980's where the worst aspects of who i am and what made me are vaguely more acceptable and what i am what i always have been will again be buried under a mountain of ashes. i will never go back. i will never go back to the 19th Century so that someone else's status anxiety is eased as if that would even be possible. I have tried to write something like this so many times and have and published and hidden or deleted but this is where it is.
Bone Tomahawk might be the cinematic equivalent of a t-shirt that says 'Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong' but I don't know. I saw some of this possibility when I watched it but I didn't have the next 3 years to understand where I was and what was coming. I failed. I failed by writing that review. I failed by not writing a better one here but i am not going to let stand without comment what i wrote before. the person who wrote that is gone and the world that they held those values in is gone and all we have is future before us. let us work together to make a new world with new stories which reflect what truly is and not rearrange the world to line up with ancient propagandas we feel nostalgic for. . i don't want to write this. metal and horror is how i make sense of the world and i don't want to ever harsh on anyone else for listening to something i can't and honestly if S. Craig Zahler movies are your bag i understand. they were mine too and might still be but the part of me they speak to is occupied territory and i am contesting and interrogating that territory. I have no personal animosity or beef with anyone. This is about me. I can't listen to Burzum anymore. I have Burzum albums in my boxes and boxes of cds. I still listen to Darkthrone but i wonder about them. I wonder what they think about immigration policy for instance and i can't stop thinking about that. There is an enormous amount of self-justification in all of this, in making it ok the loving of something indefensible and why it is ok and really this is why it was the right thing to do or it was wrong but in the end if that didn't happen no western civilization amirite? and no, nothing is worth that i'm sorry. no art, no literature. it was art and literature which prepared the ground to allow for atrocity to occur. it was art and literature which depicted the atrocities, rewrote them, made them heroic and brave or at least the product of tough but necessary sacrifices turned the predators into the victims. If you read my other, better-written Bone Tomahawk review you will hear me attempting to justify Bone Tomahawk. You will see me making what made me uncomfortable about it somehow ok and this is what i did with all kinds of stuff for years and years and now finally at 45 i am getting much better at not being ok with anything, with never being ok, with being ok with not being ok in the hopes that one day someone or many many someones will be ok together. That matters more to me than anything else. <3 nathaxnne
[[(i am going to use the space below to incorporate notes/comments made into the main body of this work. many of them are just as important to the argument as anything in this box so if of interest keep reading! because i haven't edited them, they are going to be rough/repetitive)]
PS: Please as an afternote let me lay clear my own hypocrisy and misgiving. It is important that we have art which reflects and channels the world in which we live. for better or for worse we now live in a society shaped and molded by currents manifest and occult of worldwide fascism and totalitarianism. Just as Cannon Films reflected the heart of Reaganite America, we need exploitation films which will channel our world as it stands now so that in 35 years someone will love them maybe as much as I love Death Wish 3 but just as much as I love Death Wish 3, Death Wish 3 and its cohort created a policy feedback loop influencing how laws were written and laws were enforced, how white violence against nonwhites was read and rewritten and on and on to this day. Is making Trumpsploitation inherently immoral? of course not, but there are many paths this can take. noting a market and creating product for that market is not inherently immoral but when that market directly reflects nativist and racist urges and anxieties how do you approach that market?
PPS: one of the things i wanted to write here in the comments and maybe above is that horror connects with us on a deeply personal animal level and there are always good reasons for why that is. i feel like there is a tendency to accept many xxth century art vanguards into our collective historical understanding but decouple them from any association or interplay with fascist aesthetics which is a mistake. fascist art isn't something over there or other to us, it is something so intimate it is hard to see as such. i wish i was in a better place to write something serious about the day-to-day function of fascist art in amerikkka. i think about how 24 the tv show worked during the Bush II Admin - it presented week after week a justification for the administration's worst policies. i think about the CIA's direct involvement with Kathryn Bigelowe's Zero Dark Thirty, involvement which intentionally created a false narrative surrounding torture and Bin Laden 411. We need to think about cultural production in the shadow of fascism as it applies today. It would be weird if we DIDN'T like fascist art. Fascism (apparently) or authoritarianism appeals to roughly 30 - 40 percent of people at any given time. Those people make and consume art, art that i like. I think also about how fascist art, especially fascist art's depiction of male subjecthood and agency as it relates to being the locus and rightful administrator of violence against others in retaliation for real or perceived threats and how this relates not just to fight/flight/stress/conflict but to how the body is constructed and is operated and how this influences all personal conduct. This is as deep as anything goes in me and seeing it there while recognizing myself as a trans woman is a hell of a trip. i have these overlapping fictional bodies inside of my body and they all have voices and mess with my own sense of agency even as it relates to myself. i am going to spend the rest of my life sorting this out! maybe also the next life! <3
PPPS: as a general note, i regard horror as functioning pretty much like kink in the way that it is deeply personal to the point of being rooted in essential biological drives and whatever works for you won't for someone else and it really isn't up to you what works for you and what doesn't so the last thing i would ever want to do is kinkshame someone for their horror preferences i mean, have you seen my list of favorite movies?
i feel like having a dialogue about these currents in our society and how we produce and consume them is really important. i am not interested in making anyone feel bad for liking something or finding artistry and craft in something that i too found artistry and craft in, but yes, in specifically tailoring cultural products to an audience that finds flirtation with far-right politics gives them a similar sense of frisson that horror or porn might provide, an irrational, electric charge. disentangling these responses from one another and articulating how they cross-pollinate is something else i am thinking about all the time.
I have spent my entire life watching exploitation and horror movies. They always serve many contradictory political and cultural ends which is why they are rich in meanings to explore and uncover. My point is that these movies are being produced in a specific socio-economic context for a specific audience and they engage in systemic narrative patterns. That is what it is, I am not reading into that. If you read what the film-makers themselves say that is what they are up to. They are self-consciously manipulating reactionary strains in our culture because they find it interesting and exciting and profitable to do so. I am just noticing that they are doing it and I am not the first or only person to do so. The merits of such a project can be debated, as can the merits of individual films made under such condition, but those historical and cultural preconditions are ever-present and difficult to ignore, especially in film, which involves lots of people and lots of money.
i understand that what i am offering here ideally would require the context of an art historical framing i probably don't have the chops or materials to pull off here but the gist of it is that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the conditions under which film as a medium was born, european artistic vanguards were not separable from political vanguards. italian futurism (among others) was a graphic and literary representation of the cultural forces which bled into Mussolini's regime. The poets Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis explicitly worked on creating an xxth Century fascist art. Early Russian Cinema bears the hallmarks of Russian Futurism and Constructivism which helped propel the ideological and aesthetic underpinnings of that era. Fascist film and architecture and propaganda is mostly what we have left to study. Fascist aeshetics didn't disappear after ww2, they were plowed under and became part of the general cultural milieu of postwar Europe and the United States, aesthetics which championed military strength, individual male courage and willingness to use violence, rough aesthetic surfaces, force and velocity over composition, the impression of monumental scale, overwhelming exterior threat, etc. having a hypothesis of fascist aesthetics is necessary to read and inhabit our world.
also, if you are wondering what NSBM has to do with a western, there is A LOT of cultural work that has been done even recently on the German fascination with cowboys and the western as expressed in the writings of Karl May who wrote German Westerns. Hitler used the United States model for the treatment of American Indians (genocide, then incarceration) as the model for the treatment of jews and other undesirable minorities in Nazi Germany. the construction of the romantic subject, which has A LOT to do with the individual man in a howling wilderness, imposing his will upon the land, is a shared subjectivity between romantic ideals of pioneer life which propelled families into occupation of American Indian Land and the romantic subject which composes the black metal personage: lonely, isolated, powerful, elite, look, i could go on, but the way in which subjecthood is composed under ideology and aesthetics is what i am thinking about now, how the fascist body is composed and how it operates in the world. I think it is really really helpful to think about how Vigilante Cinema in the collapse of Nixon is a reassertion of white male subjecthood in the absence of controlling authority. looking at this in terms of it being a strain or expression of fascist art is productive. to understand the work of Zahler in this context seems uncontroversial to me as he is explicitly working with these tropes. if i was writing something in a more academic forum i probably wouldn't be as loose or flippant with my tone in places as i am here but i am trying to get a basic idea across. someone somewhere else is probably doing a better job at this than i am but i am doing this for free, at 6am with a dayslong migraine before i have to start a cashier shift in 12 hours so this is the best i can do rn i hope you all have a good day! <3
- ((one strain of fascist aesthetics operates as a form of weaponized kitsch, auto-ironizing as defensive measure?)) -
PPPPS: If much of what we have left of past fascist regimes is crumbling architecture, in the case of our current fascist era, we have the architecture FIRST (Trump Tower), then buildingless architecture in the form of branding (Trump Towers being nothing more than a logo), then the reality television show with the imaginary boardroom, then the regime, then Imaginary Fascist Architecture (a Concrete Wall 2000 Miles Long On The Southern Border, Gleaming Steel Slats, Etc) as a driver of the regime. Fascist Aesthetics always tends towards the concrete, the singular, the monumental, so architecture, something 'real' or tangible to ground the abstractions of the rhetorical architecture of the regime. the whole trip of fascist aesthetics is mythos-made-flesh so in Death Wish 3 or whatever the world which is imagined is realized and the force of that realization is its triumph even as it is absurdly apocalyptic. fascist aesthetics is linear and it always tells the same story: crisis building into an apocalyptic confrontation or collapse whereupon the world will be made anew. until that time, holding down the world-as-it-is-imagined-to-be at some cut-off point for history (Pre-Civil War, Pre-New-Deal) until the culmination of that imagined ideal order can be achieved
It is no coincidence that the dominant cinematic mode of our age is the Superhero Film, which is ultimately just Vigilante Cinema For Kids. There is a Binary Star of Vigilante and Slasher Cinema which breaks down to where the locus of empathy lies, with the wielder or the victim of violence, this interrelationship is necessary for a working hypothesis of Fascist Aesthetics. These forms superhero/vigilante/slasher form a triad where each leg supports the other.
among the things i am interested in thinking about going forward is how film-makers like Cameron and Verhoeven who were making explicitly anti-fascist cinema in the 1980's ended up by necessity contributing to the visual language and rhetorical strategies/architecture of fascist aesthetics. i think about this a lot
one of the things i find fascinating about fascist aesthetics is its use of modernism to oppose modernity as a function of itself, inherently unstable and unsustainable. this distinguishes fascism from earlier forms of authoritarianism. i think about 4chan and meme culture as a kind of autoimmune freakout. i mean, my 70 year old dad sends me, a 45 year old, memes actively in support of toxic masculinity. this kind of self-ironized awareness is a frequent mode of fascist rhetoric which also allows for the expression of straightforward atrocity as if it is just asking questions or joking. there is a reason why when DJT gets in trouble for saying something his surrogates explain that he was joking even when every context indicates otherwise
"...The Man Whose Brand Is Strength..." - CNN, rn 1/27/2019
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Much Later Additional Postscript I Didn't Know Where Else To Put AKA More Stray Thoughts On This Topic Sort Of:
construction of subject identity and position under fascist aesthetics is what i think about all the time these days because it is an emergency a house on fire it is not an abstraction it is how i got here. i experience the world as a forbidding wilderness that i stumble through with jerry-rigged remnants of a more stable past forever lost through calamity. like, that is my life and what sort of person do you have to be to live in such a space? well, i don't experience myself as a person exactly but i formed a sense of what a self was and what agency was in the 1970's and the 1980's by watching television and movies. my sense of how to inhabit and perform masculinity (once i realized that is what was expected of me) was formed by living in a verbally and psychologically vacant/abusive military household and the other was by watching 70's/80's exploitation and horror movies. my basic sense of self and how to understand what that is and was is rooted in a flaming-out of fascist body armor models. i am a woman. i always have been but i didn't have any way of understanding that when i was a little kid. there was no representation. to me, the idea that i could be a woman was like saying that i could teleport myself to the moon. i remember the first time i saw a man with long hair. it is burned into my mind. i had no idea that was possible. anyway i am getting sidetracked. forced inhabitation of cultural masculinity for someone who isn't male is a heavy trip. i already experienced my mind and body as broken, halting, rebellious and violent, far outside of my or anyone's control. the idea that i had to represent a coherent subject, a locus of will and desire was and is insane to me because i am more like what? a cloud of negatively charged impulses vaguely condensing into denser forms wracked by interior lightning? so for me, 70's and 80's representations of male selfhood i could see myself in and be seen by were like Travis Bickle, Robocop and Brundlefly. To have masculine agency in our society is to capable of killing someone or something, to be a deathdealer. To have female subject position in our society is to live under the constant threat of violence from those persons expected and authorized to wield violence. My sense of agency is sputtering, malfunctioning, wild, in a thousand thousand pieces, totally compromised. i saw myself as something dying, already dead, beyond dead, in dialogue with other intelligences, other whispering forms. i experienced masculinity as something imposed upon me, something i was colonized and occupied by. i could not hope to experience a positive form of subjecthood. it was not possible. i was something born wrong that would consume itself in flames from the inside out. there was no other path. had there been diverse and robust trans representation in media and in my world i would have known and seen myself as something utterly different. once again, this is me working with live and active processes that i don't yet even have a clear schematic for. i think a lot about Wilhelm Reich's Character Armor and how it relates to life under a fascist society. i think that is the nexus of the personal and political, how drives operate internally and externally, in differences of scale, etc. anyway i have to start getting ready for work. <3