Brigitte Lahaie, covered up for the moment, in Jean Rollin’s “Fascination.”
The movies have their outsider artists too, filmmakers who work away from the established centers and financial structures, often laboring in blissful ignorance of academic technique. A disproportionate number of these directors work in horror films, for reasons that probably have to do with the genre’s openness to obsession and high tolerance for the incoherent. Most famous, there is Edward D. Wood Jr., whose endearing ineptitude in films like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” can run thin after a while. There are also genuine poets like Herk Harvey, the Midwestern maker of industrial and educational shorts who poured his heart and personal savings into his one feature-length film, the eerie and elusive “Carnival of Souls” (1962).
Another such figure was Jean Rollin (1938-2010), a French filmmaker who, like Harvey, came from a background in industrial documentaries. But Rollin was a double outsider, a filmmaker drawn to the fantastique in a country that had a limited tradition of genre filmmaking as well as a proud tradition of Cartesian rationalism that discouraged explorations of the supernatural. What France did offer, however, was a thriving interest in eroticism, and when Rollin was finally able to make his first feature, “The Rape of the Vampire” (1968), he did so by combining his childhood fascination with American cliffhanger serials and early-20th-century French fantasists like Gaston Leroux (author of “The Phantom of the Opera”) with gauzy nudes and exotic couplings. Although duly massacred by the critics, the film did well enough to attract investors and set Rollin on his peculiar path.
That path eventually included some 20 feature films signed with his own name, and about 30 other pseudonymous works of a purely pornographic (and, it is said, purely impersonal) character. Much of Rollin’s library was acquired by the British firm Redemption, which has been doling out titles on DVD for his expanding cult following. Now the company is collaborating with Kino International to release handsomely remastered Blu-rays, taken from the original camera negatives, of five key Rollin titles: “The Nude Vampire” (1970), “The Shiver of the Vampires” (1971), “The Iron Rose” (1973), “Lips of Blood” (1975) and “Fascination” (1979).
That Rollin understood his cinema as essentially private and apart is suggested by a sequence in the self-referential “Lips of Blood,” in which the hero is lured into a movie theater advertising “The Nude Vampire” (with a wonderful ’70s Art Nouveau poster by the comic book artist Philippe Druillet). But the film on the screen inside is “The Shiver of the Vampires,” playing to an audience of exactly two men who keep their eyes fixed firmly on the screen even as an exit door opens to reveal the beckoning figure of a semi-clad female vampire. Not only did Rollin imagine his public as tiny but in a trance, so mesmerized by the slow rhythms and repetitious imagery of his work that even a flesh-and-blood monster can’t distract their attention.
More than a considered style and set of themes, Rollin’s work projects a compelling pathology, at once obvious (masochistic fantasies of childlike men smothered by sexually empowered women) and hopelessly obscure (a desolate stretch of the Normandy coast, Pourville-lès-Dieppe, somehow connected to Rollin’s own childhood, appears with almost comic regularity). He has a remarkable feeling for gloomy, isolated locations: abandoned cemeteries, bricked-up apartment blocks, crumbling châteaux situated in provincial obscurity. He likes his women full-bodied (unfashionable in the 1970s); dressed in diaphanous, pastel-colored nightgowns; and preferably in pairs: lesbian vampire lovers (“Shiver of the Vampires”), topless twin sister house servants (“The Nude Vampire”), elegant bourgeois ladies bound in a blood cult (“Fascination”).
With its relatively accomplished acting, superior cinematography and fleshed-out story line, “Fascination” is often recommended as the Rollin to see if you are seeing only one. Brigitte Lahaie, a star of French pornographic movies, appears with the future novelist Franca Maï as a pair of debauched chatelaines who lure a thief on the run (Jean-Marie Lemaire) into their clutches, occasioning at least one unforgettable image: Ms. Lahaie, naked beneath an open black robe, cutting down victims with a gigantic scythe — the Grim Reaper as imagined by Bob Guccione.
But if “Fascination” represents Rollin’s most successful attempt to make a “normal” movie, his personality emerges more strongly in a less polished work like “The Shiver of the Vampires,” a cascade of delirious imagery tied to a story line so convoluted that even Rollin seems to lose track of it. A pair of newlyweds (still wearing their wedding clothes) arrive at the crumbling château owned by the bride’s eccentric cousins, a pair of vampire hunters who have themselves become vampires. Rollin’s compulsive doubling moves into tripling as the bloodsucker in residence, Isolde (played by an actress with a single name, Dominique) goes after both the bride, Ise (Sandra Julien) and a local woman, Isabelle (Nicole Nancel), who was involved in a ménage à trois with the two undead cousins.
The doddering symmetry of the plotline finds its visual equivalent in a couple of laboriously executed 360-degree pans — showy, difficult shots that represent one of Rollin’s rare attempts to be cinematic. In the context of his usual offhanded compositions and wayward framing, the formal self-consciousness of these circular shots is startling — as if Jean-Luc Godard had suddenly taken over an episode of the “Real Housewives” franchise.
Moments like these — and there are a few others scattered through Rollin’s oeuvre — remind us of the close kinship of outsider art and the avant-garde. It is, after all, difficult to distinguish between rules broken out of innocence and rules broken with study and deliberation. With its outsize female characters struggling obscurely on a magical plane, “The Shiver of the Vampires” made me think more than once of Jacques Rivette’s mid-’70s series of feminist fantasy films: “Céline and Julie Go Boating,” “Noroît,” “Duelle.” (The impression is reinforced by the presence of Michel Delahaye and Jacques Robiolles as the vampire cousins. Both made regular appearance in New Wave films, and Delahaye contributed as a critic to the film journal Cahiers du Cinéma.)
With slightly higher budgets, a little more formal assurance and a much better press agent, Jean Rollin might have taken his place in the pantheon of French cinéastes. But then we would not have had these odd, awkward, strangely touching films, and I think I would miss them. (Kino International, Blu-ray $29.95 each, DVD $24.95 each, not rated except for “Shiver of the Vampires,” which is R).
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I am not for them. I console not: I hate the consoled & the consoler.
I am unique & conqueror. I am not of the slaves that perish. Be they damned & dead! Amen.
The Voices in Philip K. Dick’s Head
By CHARLES PLATT
THE EXEGESIS OF PHILIP K. DICK
Edited by Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem and Erik Davis.
Illustrated. 944 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $40.
In 1979, I visited Philip K. Dick for a profile I was writing. In a modest apartment he shared with dusty stacks of books, deteriorating furniture, a vintage stereo system and a couple of cats, he took the opportunity to go public about a singular experience dominating his life. For the past five years, he told me earnestly, he had been receiving messages from a spiritual entity. “It invaded my mind and assumed control of my motor centers,” he said. “It set about healing me physically and my 4-year-old boy, who had an undiagnosed life-threatening birth defect that no one had been aware of. It had memories dating back over 2,000 years. . . . There wasn’t anything that it didn’t seem to know.”
Dick had already written more than a million words of personal notes on this topic, he said, notes he referred to as his “exegesis” — a word that traditionally means an explanation or interpretation of Scripture. In his case, he was trying to explain the voices inside his head.
The delusions of a penurious science fiction writer might seem of marginal interest, except that Philip K. Dick was not just any science fiction writer. Shortly after his death in 1982, his book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” became the movie “Blade Runner.” Since then, no fewer than 10 other motion pictures have been based on his work, including “Total Recall” and “Minority Report.” He is widely regarded as one of the most conceptually innovative writers in the 20th century, whose influence has been acknowledged by novelists from William Gibson to Ursula K. Le Guin.
Even in his earliest stories, Dick wrestled with the nature of perception. As he described it to me, “I began to get an idea of a mysterious quality in the universe . . . a kind of metaphysical world, an invisible realm of things half-seen.” He could not accept the notion of a single, objective reality, and favored Jung’s concept that what we perceive as external may be an unconscious projection. When he tried to embed these ideas in serious contemporary novels, he found no market for them, and thus used science fiction as the unlikely vehicle for his philosophical questions.
An example is his disturbing novel “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” in which colonists on Mars escape the deprivations of their environment by using a drug that opens a gateway to a shared, artificial reality. But Dick takes the concept a step further, suggesting this reality could be molded by the drug manufacturer; and then a step further still, as another entity competes to take over and manipulate the reality, along with the people in it. This reflects the other principal obsession throughout Dick’s work: his fear that a powerful person or group can change the perceptions and beliefs of others. He saw this process inflicted by politicians, religions and “authority figures in general.”
After his death, the overlap between his hallucinatory experiences and the concerns in his fiction made him a tempting subject for academic study. He had been a college dropout himself, with little regard for academia, but he was no longer around to debunk the professors who analyzed his oeuvre. So it is that his “exegesis” has now been exhumed and published (partly, at least) as “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick,” edited by Pamela Jackson, Jonathan Lethem and Erik Davis, with assistance from several academics, including three theologians.
The struggle of a highly intelligent man to find a rational explanation for something inexplicable inside himself could make fascinating reading, if it was thoughtfully organized. Alas, the “Exegesis” pursues its target in the manner of a shotgun firing randomly in every possible direction. Dick ruminates, cogitates and associates freely from one topic to the next. He mulls the content of his dreams, descends into labyrinths of metaphysical hypotheses and (ironically) wonders how he can ever use this material to create a publishable book.
Nor does he succeed in explaining the source of his visions. Jackson and Lethem acknowledge it could have been merely a stroke, residual brain damage from drug use or temporal lobe epilepsy; but they seem unimpressed by such pedestrian possibilities. They insist that “to approach the ‘Exegesis’ from any angle at all a reader must first accept that the subject is revelation.”
The trouble is, any revelatory messages are embedded in more than 900 pages of impulsive theorizing, much of which is self-referential. Dick typically floats a concept, criticizes it 10 pages later, criticizes the critique, then rejects the whole thing as a totally different notion enters his head.
We receive no help from the editors in mapping this tangle. As Richard Doyle, a professor of English and information sciences and technology at Penn State, writes in his afterword, “When you begin reading the ‘Exegesis,’ you undertake a quest with no shortcuts or cheat codes.” Thus we’re on our own when we ponder sentences like “This forces me to reconsider the ‘discarding and annexing’ process by the brain in favor of a proliferation theory,” or “So irreality and perturbation are the two perplexities which confront us,” or “I dreamed: I am the fish whose flesh is eaten, and because I am fat, it is good. (Bob Silverberg ate me.)”
What’s missing here is context. From my interactions with Dick, I know that many of these musings were written while he stayed up all night, sometimes in an alcoholic haze, while perusing his favorite source, Macmillan’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy (edited by Paul Edwards). He also retained a healthy sense of humor about his supposed tutelary spirit. “On Thursdays and Saturdays I would think it was God,” he told me, while “on Tuesdays and Wednesdays I would think it was extraterrestrial. Sometimes I would think it was the Soviet Union Academy of Sciences trying out their psychotronic microwave telepathic transmitter.”
Fortunately, he retained this humor and self-skepticism when he grappled with his metaphysical ideas in his 1981 novel “Valis.” There he portrayed himself as an eminently sane observer, engaging in dialogues with a delusional alter ego whom he named Horselover Fat. A deity does enter the story, but the book’s theosophical concerns range from the sublime to the mundane, as characters ponder issues like why God allowed a much-loved cat to die. (The deity says the answer is simple. The cat should have known better than to run in front of a car. It died because it was stupid.)
The “Exegesis” takes itself much more seriously, and becomes tiresome as a result. The editors note that Dick’s children, who are the heirs to his estate, weren’t entirely happy about its being published, in case it “attracted unwelcome attention and threatened to undermine their father’s growing academic and literary reputation with its disreputable aura of high weirdness.”
Their worries were unfounded. The sheer mass of this folly will surely discourage most readers. Philip K. Dick’s novels — the works that he considered important and publishable — endure as the most fitting tribute to his intellect, his imagination and his willingness to acknowledge that when all is said and done, human existence may be nothing more than a cosmic comedy.
Charles Platt has written more than 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, including “The Silicon Man” and “Dream Makers.”
A woman with her child at a cholera treatment centre (14 Dec 2010) There have been calls for better public health information throughout the epidemic
Continue reading the main story
* The rubble problem
* Progress: In graphics
* An aid worker’s view
* In pictures: Wolfgang Tillmans
Voodoo priests in Haiti are being lynched by mobs who blame them for spreading cholera, the country’s government has said.
At least 45 people have been lynched in recent weeks as Haiti continues to be ravaged by a cholera epidemic.
Haiti’s communications minister has made an appeal for the lynchings to end and called for a campaign to ensure people understand how cholera spreads.
More than 2,500 Haitians have died from the water-borne disease since October.
Another 121,000 people have been treated for symptoms of cholera, with at least 63,500 admitted to hospital, figures show.
The outbreak has also prompted angry protests aimed at the United Nations, whose Nepalese peacekeepers have been suspected of introducing cholera to Haiti.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has announced an investigation into the reports, although the UN initially denied the suggestion.
Although many Haitians still practise voodoo or use aspects of voodoo in their religious worship, the latest violence erupted out of fears the traditional priests were using their powers to spread the infection.
Continue reading the main story
People have been blaming us, saying that we cast spells and did evil things which brought the earthquake as a punishment”
End Quote Max Beauvoir Voodoo priest
Officials counted 40 people killed – mostly voodoo priests – killed in one region of Haiti, the AFP news agency reported, with five others killed elsewhere.
“The victims… were stoned or hacked with machetes before being burned in the streets,” communications ministry official Moise Fritz Evens said.
Haiti’s communications minister said she abhorred the killings and insisted that the answer was to improve general education about how cholera is transmitted.
“Voodoo practitioners have nothing to do with the cholera epidemic. We must press for an awareness campaign about the disease in the communities.”
A highly prominent voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, told Reuters news agency police were not doing enough to stop the violence.
“Since the earthquake some people have been blaming us, saying that we cast spells and did evil things which brought the earthquake as a punishment,” he said.
Haiti’s cholera epidemic has provoked widespread fear across the country. Anger spread when suspicions emerged that the Nepalese UN peacekeepers could have brought the disease to Haiti – where it is extremely rare – from their country, where it is endemic.
Poor sanitary conditions in much of quake-hit Haiti have contributed to the rapid spread of cholera, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting. It can kill quickly but is treated easily through rehydration and antibiotics.
The country was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010 that devastated most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and killed at least 250,000 people.
Is Madonna Jewish?
The material girl’s professed faith has little to do with classical Jewish mysticismIn 1941, Gershom Scholem published “Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism,” a groundbreaking study of Kabbalah’s murky origins, complicated texts and arcane ideas. Scholem, who died in 1982, concluded the book with a vague prediction: “Under what aspects this invisible stream of Jewish mysticism will again come to surface we cannot tell.” Chances are he didn’t have Madonna in mind.
But the pop superstar has since the mid-’90s been Kabbalah’s most prominent enthusiast, incorporating Kabbalah-inspired themes into her music and even donating $18 million to the Kabbalah Centre, a controversial organization led by a New York-born former insurance salesman turned rabbi named Philip Berg. Now 81, Mr. Berg (known within the movement as “the Rav”) runs the enterprise—more than 60 centers and study groups around the world—with his wife Karen and two children Michael and Yehuda.
It may seem odd that Madonna, who is not Jewish, is the public face of Kabbalah. It was the Berg family that repackaged an esoteric body of Jewish thought—”the secret life of Judaism,” in Scholem’s words—into a universal self-help theosophy open to Jew and Gentile alike. In the process, the Centre stripped Kabbalah of much of its Jewishness. The website states it plainly: “Kabbalah is not a religion.” Yehuda Berg, though himself a rabbi, has said that he doesn’t consider himself Jewish, and in a cover blurb for his 2002 book, “The Power of Kabbalah,” Madonna underscores this point, writing that Kabbalah has “nothing to do with religious dogma.”
So what does the Kabbalah Centre have to do with classical Jewish mysticism? Not much, according to critics. The great Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz has likened the connection to “the relationship between pornography and love.” Allan Nadler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Drew University, is even less charitable: “The Bergs hijacked an ancient, highly secretive Jewish tradition and popularized it as pseudo-mystical, New Age nonsense.”
It may seem odd that Madonna, who is not Jewish, is the public face of Kabbalah.
.The Kabbalah Centre preaches a nebulous spiritualism that blends kabbalistic ideas with astrology, secular science and a large dose of pop psychology. The literature is laden with words like “energy,” “chaos,” and, most central, “Light”—”the Infinite source of Goodness, the Divine Force, the Creator.” Much of it seems vague and harmless. The Centre counsels adherents to let go of “anger, jealousy, and other reactive behaviors in favor of patience, empathy, and compassion.” Who can argue with that? At times, however, the Centre’s ideas veer from glib to offensive. Philip Berg has argued that violence against Jews, including the Holocaust, could have been averted if only more Jews had studied Kabbalah.
Classical Kabbalah emerged along with its canonical text, the Zohar, a 13th-century collection of commentaries on the Five Books of Moses, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Ruth. A complex mix of cosmology, symbology, theology and magic, Kabbalah has long existed on the periphery of Jewish life—a series of small, superstitious offshoots from the more rational, legalistic mainstream of Judaism. Indeed, the Zohar has at times been regarded as a dangerous book, its contents restricted to an elite of learned and married Jewish men over 40 who commit themselves to an ascetic lifestyle.
Not so the Berg family. Commodifying Kabbalah has apparently been good business. According to a report in Newsweek this week, the family lives lavishly—Beverly Hills mansions, luxury cars, first-class travel—all of it bankrolled by the Centre. The glamorous lifestyle accords with the Centre’s celebrity-based marketing strategy. Like Scientology, the Berg brand has benefited immensely from its ties to the rich and famous, including Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan.
Then there’s the Centre’s penchant for over-the-top salesmanship. Among the items available for purchase: red string to ward off the evil eye ($26), a 23-volume English translation of the Zohar ($415), and a bevy of books, DVDs and CDs by the Bergs (titles include “Becoming Like God” and “Divine Sex”). The Kabbalah Centre does encourage members to perform acts of charity, but the Centre itself often seems to be the beneficiary.
So what would Gershom Scholem make of the Bergs and the Kabbalah Centre? Would he be surprised by their success? Probably not. Jewish mysticism has had its share of unsavory gurus. Scholem even wrote a book about the most infamous one, the 17th-century false messiah Shabtai Tzvi. In short, notes David Biale, a professor of Jewish history at the University of California at Davis, Scholem “had a very sharp nose for charlatans.”
Mr. Goldstein is the editor of Arts & Letters Daily and an editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.