Slapstick cannibals: BE MY KING (Lane, 1928)

Lupino Lane Be My King 1928.jpg

A short movie from Lupino Lane, who was the most famous of the English Lupino family, until eclipsed by his cousin Ida Lupino, one of the only female filmmakers working during the 1950s in the Hollywood studio system, and the first woman to direct a film noir with The Hitch-Hiker in 1953.

Lupino Lane stars in this short silent movie with his brother Wallace Lupino, who plays an older authority figure, despite being some years younger than Lane. The Lupino brothers later shot to fame with a show called Me and My Girl in the 1930s, which inflicted the song “The Lambeth Walk” onto an unsuspecting public.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Lane is a cabin boy, shipwrecked with Wallace on an island, where they come across the obligatory foot print (think Robinson Crusoe).

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

Lane sets off to find signs of civilisation. Various animals cross his path – a chimp, a lion, a leopard, even an elephant, none of which he notices, until he is frightened by a rabbit. Wallace is captured by cannibals (male) while Lane is accosted by the females, who takes a bite at him.

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

He is captured by the male cannibals and taken to the – yes – cooking pot that was so much part of the myth of primitive cannibalism.

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

In fact, the trope of the sad-eyed missionary or sailor in a cooking pot surrounded by fierce savages with bones in their noses is perhaps the first image most people conjure up when (if) they think about cannibalism. There is, of course, no evidence that this ever happened anywhere, but there is some speculation that the story was spread by missionaries, as it did wonders for their fund-raising efforts.

Lane is rescued by the love of the chief’s daughter (think Man from Deep River) – and dressed for the wedding, while Wallace is fattened up for the feast. In fact, there are many precursors to the later cannibal movies in this absurd little piece.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

This is a very early celluloid version of the white man in the cooking pot, which is why I have included it here. The movie is mostly very silly, but funny in parts, in that early Chaplin-esque slapstick way.

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

But there is a sinister aspect – this dismissal of ‘savage’ races as unquestionably cannibals was useful not just for mission fund-raising but also as a pretext for the invasion, conversion, subjugation and often extermination of the indigenous peoples of the lands that Europeans wanted to exploit. The uncritical acceptance by Western audiences of this image of the native as cannibal construed colonised peoples as racially degenerate, and made the appalling atrocities of colonialism somehow less bothersome, particularly to its beneficiaries.

This Youtube link below is actually not a trailer, but the complete movie.

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.

Hannibal in your head – HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 7 (Fuller, 2014)

vlcsnap-00005.jpg

Psychic cannibalism. It’s a big theme in Silence of the Lambs. Clarice Starling is told by Jack Crawford “You don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head”, but that’s what happens – she swaps her psychic traumas for his insights into the serial killer she is seeking (whom he happens to know). He “eats” her anguish, sips at her pain.

Just so, Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky from Veep and My Girl and lots of other things) tells Jack Crawford, after she has been missing for two years, that she doesn’t remember the Ripper, or how she found him, because

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Her name has been changed in the TV show to protect the copyright holders, but she is certainly Clarice, drugged by Hannibal as per the book and film Hannibal, but merged with the book/film Red Dragon version of Will Graham, who indeed discovered that Hannibal was the Ripper, and got himself severely ripped for his troubles. As usual, some brilliant reimagining of the Hannibal myth by Bryan Fuller.

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

Miriam has had an arm removed, but just to torment Jack, not for gustatory purposes. She heard the Ripper’s voice, but cannot identify his face. Will she identify Hannibal?

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

vlcsnap-00006.jpg

Will is free – all charges have been dropped, since the Ripper is still killing. He tells Chilton that Abel Gideon is dead (Hannibal ate him) and that he, Chilton is next. But why, Chilton asks, did Hannibal not just kill Will?

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

It’s his design, of course. Will comes for Hannibal with a gun, ready to finish job that Jack Crawford interrupted in the Season 1 finale. But Hannibal is still inside his head

vlcsnap-00011.jpg

vlcsnap-00012.jpg

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

No, we don’t want to know how it ends – we want it to go on and on. #BRINGBACKHANNIBAL! But we need to know who is going to be the Chesapeake Ripper now that Will has been cleared of the crime. Well, who else might he frame but Frederick Chilton? Hannibal has put the remaining parts of Abel Gideon in Frederick’s house, on life support, which fails just as Chilton enters. Bits of Gideon lie around

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

vlcsnap-00017.jpg

The FBI arrive to pick up Chilton, but Hannibal drugs him, tells him as he goes under that, when he wakes, he will have to run. Indeed he will, because Hannibal lets in the FBI red-shirts, kills them, and leaves one disembowelled and the other run through a hundred times like the classical ‘wounded man’ drawing, which of course is readily available on Chilton’s bookshelves, as well as having been planted as a memory in Miriam Lass’ mind.

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

He runs, leaving the FBI to find their dead agents (which always puts them in a bad mood) and the remains of Abel Gideon.

vlcsnap-00021.jpg

He runs to Will’s house, much to the delight of the dogs (he is covered in blood), has a shower and prepares to flee the country.

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

Will advises him to stay and wait:

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

But Gideon runs, pursued by a vengeful Jack Crawford, finally giving up, in the now familiar crucifixion pose, just as Jack is about to shoot him.

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

Hannibal is alone in his consulting room. It’s the time he had allotted for Will’s weekly session, and here comes Will, not with a gun this time.

vlcsnap-00027.jpg

vlcsnap-00028.jpg

Now begins the dangerous game. Hannibal has been way too smart for the FBI, but Will figures he knows him, knows his strategies, can outplay him. Hannibal’s design is to turn Will into himself, into an Übermensch, but Will thinks he can catch Hannibal, pretend to be ‘becoming’, and fool him into confessing.

vlcsnap-00029.jpg

It’s cannibal chess.

vlcsnap-00033.jpg

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.

Cannibalism and the limits to appetite: THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (Greenaway, 1989)

Michel Montaigne wrote, back in the sixteenth century, that savagery is not all on the side of the cannibal:

There is more barbarisme [sic] in eating men alive, than to feed upon them being dead; to mangle by tortures torment a body full of lively sense… than to roast him after he is dead”.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Peter Greenaway’s The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover (1989) is the perfect representation of the savage cannibal within our own civilisation, even though the actual act of cannibalism does not occur until the closing minutes of the film. The film however is replete with images of physical and metaphoric incorporation and abjection: eating, corpses, excrement, violence and humiliation. This is such a perfect representation of abjection that the Reelviews reviewer was “at a loss” to find anything disgusting that had been left out.

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

The film is almost entirely set inside the upmarket restaurant Le Hollandais which has been bought by gangster Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) who torments and humiliates the patrons, staff, his men and his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren). Crystal Bartolovich describes this process as “making everyone around him miserable in ways that depend upon the alimentary canal”. Another reviewer observed that the restaurant metaphorically presents a reversed alimentary canal: the back door with its dog-shit is the anus, the stomach is the kitchen where the food is processed and finally the dining room is the mouth, the site of cultured discrimination, but also of abuse.

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

While Spica eats and belches and spouts abuse and absurd bon mots, Georgina escapes, in brief interludes, to have a sexual and then a loving relationship with the very refined bookshop owner Michael (Alan Howard), with the connivance of the cook, Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer). The world of the restaurant is surreal, with each room coloured differently and the costumes of the protagonists changing to match as they move between them. Tables in the kitchen and the dining room are groaning under the bodies of dead birds and mammals. Spica shows little distinction between his three pet subjects: food, excrement and sex. The pleasures of sex and eating and the abjection of excretion are important messages from Greenaway’s film: Spica sums up “the naughty bits and the dirty bits are so close together, that it just goes to show how eating and sex are related”.

vlcsnap-00008.jpg

He forces an enemy to eat dog-shit, his men gorge on the fine dining and vomit on the table, and his wife reveals that sex for him involves only violence and degradation. Spica’s favoured method of torture is force feeding: he feeds excrement in the opening scene to a man who owes him money, he feeds buttons to the kitchen boy, and when he discovers the love affair, he promises to catch the lover, kill him, and eat him. He and his men kill Michael by making him eat one of his books.

vlcsnap-00024.jpg

Georgina persuades Borst to cook Michael’s body; in a ceremonial scene, she reverses his force-feeding tactic and at gunpoint forces him to make good his earlier threat to eat the lover, suggesting he starts with Michael’s cock: “it’s a delicacy, and you know where it’s been”.

vlcsnap-00067.jpg

As she kills Spica with another phallic symbol, his own gun, she hisses at him (while looking at us, the viewers) the single, final word of the film: “cannibal!”

vlcsnap-00072.jpg

The film’s alterity focuses on the criminal crew against polite society. It was made toward the end of the long period known as Thatcherism, in which Britain was hugely polarised between followers of “libertarianism” and their opponents who felt that money and power were crushing all vestiges of civil society. The film has widely been interpreted as a protest about the politics of that time, with the thief as Thatcher and her greedy plutocrats and the lover as the ineffectual left opposition, the cook as the civil service and the wife as the people, being alternately wooed and abused. Roger Ebert saw a more universal message about an entrepreneurial class that is raping the earth and its environment while the “timid majority” finds distraction in romance and escapism. The New York Times felt that Greenaway was asking the question: what happens when “the most crass and sadistic people” gain power? Greenaway himself said that his use of cannibalism was a metaphor of consumer society: “once we’ve stuffed the whole world into our mouths, ultimately we’ll end up eating ourselves”.

vlcsnap-00068.jpg

Some critics, however, sees Greenaway’s message as elitist: consumption is only an issue when the “wrong” people are doing it. Spica and his crew debase the high culture of Le Hollandais with their ignorance, crudity and violence. Georgina (whom Spica insists on calling “Georgie” as if trying to alter her gender), Michael and Borst are refined, aesthetic and vulnerable, like the high culture which the thieves despise and aspire to at the same time. Greenaway seems to be accusing the “low culture” thieves, and his audience, of the same “voracious hunger” that colonialism cited to calumniate the natives they wanted to subdue.

vlcsnap-00070.jpg

Greenaway is exploring these “limits to appetite” in his scenes of sex, food and excrement; the contemporary cannibal demonstrates a new and uncertain relation to commodities. The cook is a film about abjection, but also desire. Cannibalism reduces the human to a roast dinner, but at the same time questions the limits we increasingly need to put on our meals, as we overconsume our share of natural resources.

Related image

“An act of dominance: HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 6 “Futamono” (Fuller, 2014)

Why do cannibals eat people? This episode looks at that question, and demonstrates that they do it for the same reason that anyone eats anything. Appetite and power. Hunger and dominance. They want to, and they can. Isn’t that why people eat other animals?

Hannibal had a near death experience in the previous episode and, as this one starts, he is playing harpsichord. As he explains to Alana Bloom, who is also a psychiatrist and into this stuff:

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

He is growing. Becoming, as he hopes Will is growing and becoming – becoming a killer and cannibal like him.

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

Well, Will is already a cannibal – as he says to Jack Crawford:

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

Look, people as a rule don’t like cannibals much. Will tells Jack that he (Will) has “contempt for the Ripper, contempt for what he does”. What does he do? Jack asks.  In a piece of dialogue straight out of the interview between Clarice and Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs, Will tells us:

vlcsnap-00006.jpg

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

If Will was Hannibal, he’d quote Marcus Aurelius. But this is close enough. Jack points out that the killer harvests organs. That’s what he does, sure, but why? Why does he need to do it?

vlcsnap-00010.jpg

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

Will is quick to point out that Hannibal is not like Hobbs, who honoured the animals (human and other) that he killed and ate. He uses the word “sounder” (a collective noun for hogs) deliberately.

vlcsnap-00017.jpg

vlcsnap-00020.jpg

Well, Hannibal is certainly thinking gastronomically. He is cutting up and skewering the pieces of a heart – human, probably. Alana is helping him, analysing him, working on a definition of humanity as they prepare the heart:

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

…and the things that make us human. Good and bad, love and ache.

Hannibal has not recovered from the murder attempt on himself.

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

vlcsnap-00027.jpg

And when Hannibal goes shopping, it’s not random. He has a method. A list of rude people, and a wonderful, hand-written recipe card base.

vlcsnap-00029.jpg

vlcsnap-00030.jpg

The latest victim has been grafted onto a tree in a carpark, his organs replaced with poisonous flowers. All except for his lungs.

vlcsnap-00031.jpg

Jack realises why: This is a judgement.

vlcsnap-00032.jpg

vlcsnap-00033.jpg

Jack wants to tell Hannibal about the latest case, but he won’t listen.

vlcsnap-00041.jpg

vlcsnap-00043.jpg

How is he going to do that?

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

Well, Will told Jack that if people were being killed, then Hannibal was planning a dinner party. Is this all still too subtle for Jack?

vlcsnap-00052.jpg

But now, Will is not alone. Abel Gideon knows about Hannibal, and so does Chilton, who records all their conversations. Jack asks Chilton if he knows what he is accusing Hannibal of? Oh yes.

vlcsnap-00050.jpg

vlcsnap-00049.jpg

Chilton is a believer, now that his life is at stake. He analyses Hannibal as psychopath:

Jack, he fits the profile. He is attracted to medical and psychological fields because they offer power over man. Cannibalism –

vlcsnap-00053.jpg

Hannibal eats people because he wants to, and because he can. He shows his dominance, and he dispenses justice. The dude grafted into a tree had, Jack observes, “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” It had been an important nesting habitat for endangered songbirds.

Hannibal is picking victims for his dinner party. The recipes and victims are chosen and prepared carefully, to a Strauss “love song waltz”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hannibal’s party is splendid, with liveried footmen serving the dishes he planned during the sequences above. Chilton and Jack watch the well-heeled, well-fed guests tuck in to the fare.

vlcsnap-00083.jpg

vlcsnap-00086.jpg

Jack rudely takes a plate of delicacies home with him. Or back to the lab.

vlcsnap-00087.jpg

But Hannibal is one step ahead – the food was made of animals other than humans – goose, pig, cow.

vlcsnap-00116.jpg

But Hannibal has new dinner plans. He drugs Alana, who becomes his alibi as he goes to the asylum and kidnaps Abel Gideon, the man who attempted to steal his identity by claiming to be the Chesapeake Ripper.

vlcsnap-00092.jpg

Gideon, now crippled by the asylum guards, will be both guest of honour and main course: Hannibal has amputated his “useless” leg and prepared it as Roti de cuisse: clay-roasted thigh with canoe-cut marrowbone.

vlcsnap-00106.jpg

vlcsnap-00107.jpg

vlcsnap-00109.jpg

Gideon is a little unsure of the etiquette of the guest / meat.

vlcsnap-00112.jpg

Then, there are more tributes to the earlier books/movies:

Silence of the Lambs

vlcsnap-00095.jpg

vlcsnap-00096.jpg

And Hannibal Rising

vlcsnap-00098.jpg

And Silence again – the girl in the pit.

vlcsnap-00118.jpg

Hannibal has finished his composition. This was his design.

vlcsnap-00119.jpg

“Truly living with nature” – CANNIBAL TOURS (O’Rourke, 1988)

Cannibal Tours is a documentary by Australian director and cinematographer Dennis O’Rourke. The scenes in it are presented without comment, but its irony and disquiet at the nature of ‘cannibal tourism’ is blindingly obvious.

The soundtrack of the film is a mixture of music, sounds of nature, and a symphony of camera shutters.

20 smile for the cameras.JPG

The film follows European and American tourists as they travel the middle Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. Most of the villages in the film are inhabited by the Iatmul people. The tourists enjoy bargaining for local handcrafts such as woodcarvings and baskets, snap endless photos of the colourful savages, hand out cigarettes, watch dance performances, and offer naive comments about native people and how they live in harmony with nature.

10 sepia photo.JPG

It intersperses the scenes of the tourists with black-and-white photographs from the era of German colonialism of New Guinea.

38.JPG

The pervasive ethnocentrism of the tourists casts them as the savages, as they dehumanise and exoticise Sepik River life.

60.JPG

Some of the tourists’ observations are reproduced below without comment, just as O’Rourke does on camera.

German tourist: I heard that German colonists were very popular!
Where have they killed the people? Here?
Local: At those stones we would dance and cut off heads.
German tourist: Now I need a photograph!

An Italian tourist observes:

They are truly primitive. I wonder though if their way of life is better than ours. Truly living with nature. Not really living, more like vegetating. The experts assure us they are satisfied. Happy and well fed. Nature provides them with the necessities of life. And they don’t have to worry about thinking of tomorrow.

Local: The previous generation saw the Germans arrive by boat and thought their dead ancestors had returned. Now, when we see tourists, we say about them ‘the dead have returned!’

42.JPG

There are lengthy scenes of tourists bargaining for carvings and masks.

Native woman – tourists come and look but never buy. You white men have all the money! We village people have no money!

Talking about the Spirit House, one local person recalls:

The Germans, the English and Australians took all the sacred objects. The missionaries destroyed all the most powerful symbols kept in the spirit house. The missionaries threw them out saying “It’s the devil! Get rid of it!”

 

German tourist [into his tape recorder]: Now we see the remains of a house where, in the past, cannibalism was practised.

44.JPG

…for reasons of survival. And custom too, I think. It was symbolic. I think cannibalism was a cultural practice, not a necessity. Because wildlife must have been plentiful.

Local: We sit here confused while they take pictures of everything. We don’t understand why these foreigners take photographs.

Italian: we must try to help them advance in the world, bringing to them some values and convictions. Naturally, this will involve going into their villages as the missionaries do to teach them. To educate and stimulate them to behave differently.

45.JPG

… living in a world completely overwhelmed by nature. They are also human.

47.JPG

even though our evolution could still be disputed by some.

There is much hilarity when the tourists find a phallus for sale.

50.JPG

Back on their boat, the tourists wear native warpaint and play at being savages.

55.JPG

Maggie Kilgour wrote that

“the figure of the cannibal was created to support the cultural cannibalism of colonialism, through the projection of western imperialist appetites onto the cultures they then subsumed “.

The imperialists now have cameras rather than guns. The film really asks – who are the cannibals?

70.JPG

The film is available (at time of writing) on YouTube:

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.

“He is the devil. He is smoke.” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 05 “Mukōzuke” (Fuller, 2014)

At its core, cannibalism is about food, eating, the joy of taste. This episode therefore commences with a comparison of the meals of Hannibal, free, prosperous, creative

vlcsnap-00086.jpg

and Will, confined, subject to whatever gruel is dished up in the asylum.

vlcsnap-00085.jpg

As Hannibal tells Jack:

vlcsnap-00087.jpg

Hannibal eats food, not friends. He is cooking for Jack, again, making Jack perhaps the pre-eminent innocent cannibal of the series, since he dines there so often. But this time, he is pre-occupied, upset that his wife tried to kill herself, grateful that Hannibal stopped her. Hannibal discusses his own dilemma: as a doctor, he had no choice, but

vlcsnap-00089.jpg

vlcsnap-00090.jpg

Hannibal is a good friend, says Jack. That, as we know, won’t last.

Beverly Katz has been neatly dissected and mounted into giant slides. As Will figures, she has been pulled apart layer by layer, as she would dissect a crime scene.

vlcsnap-00096.jpg

Will asks to see her, and is given the same treatment Hannibal received in the film of Silence of the Lambs: straight-jacket, hockey mask and transported on a furniture trolley.

vlcsnap-00095.jpg

He does his pendulum, re-enactment, this is my design, thing. He knows who killed Beverly, but cannot tell Jack, because Jack doesn’t want to believe it. Will does say that she will be missing organs:

vlcsnap-00097.jpg

She is indeed missing kidneys. And guess what Hannibal’s having for lunch?

vlcsnap-00099.jpg

Yep. Nice steak and kidney pie. Seems to be enjoying it too.

vlcsnap-00102.jpg

vlcsnap-00103.jpg

So, as Clarice once asked, why does Hannibal do what he does? Abel Gideon has his own theory, not so different to the way Madds said in an interview that he chose to play him:

vlcsnap-00105.jpg

vlcsnap-00106.jpg

He warns Will that he will never catch the Ripper – he will have to kill him. Another insight into where the series might be heading.

Hannibal now has a couple of people who suspect him: Will, of course, but also Abel Gideon, who Will brought to his house the night Gideon removed most of Chilton’s guts. He asks Chilton why, in those circumstances, he would bring Gideon back to “your hospital for the unworried unwell” [great Hannibal quip BTW]. Chilton claims it was not for “selfish reasons”. “Ah, selfishness” comments Hannibal

vlcsnap-00111.jpg

He goes to meet Gideon, who is still interested in his satanic analysis:

vlcsnap-00116.jpg

Outside the asylum, he is photographed by Freddie Lounds. You have to give her credit for bravery – Hannibal says something that would bring a chill to those who know him like we do, know his penchant for eating rude people:

vlcsnap-00118.jpg

She goes in to interview Will, and is given the same instructions Clarice received in Silence of the Lambs:

vlcsnap-00121.jpg

vlcsnap-00122.jpg

vlcsnap-00123.jpg

Will is using Freddie to contact his “admirer” – the one who killed the bailiff in his trial, hoping to get him exonerated.  Turns out to be the nurse in the “hospital for the unworried unwell”. Why? Well, smaller birds will mob a hawk.

vlcsnap-00125.jpg

Yes, another elitist. Perhaps even a Nietzschean. He wants the hawks to work together. Happy to help Will any way he can. What favour can he do for Will? Will wants to make sure what happened to Beverly cannot happen again.

vlcsnap-00126.jpg

Will dreams he is becoming the beast – antlers growing from his back. Hannibal is doing laps of the pool, which explains why he is in great shape and able to kill people who often seem somehow younger and fitter. Also, cold water is great for shifting blood stains. The nurse is the only other swimmer (obviously a very exclusive pool) and shoots Hannibal with a tranquiliser dart. He sinks, but that’s not a suitable death, so next we see him teetering on a bucket, bleeding out, and in a semi-crucifixion position.

vlcsnap-00128.jpg

The nurse knows that Hannibal is the Ripper, and asks him

How many times have you watched someone cling on to a life that’s not really worth living? Eking out a few extra seconds. Wondering why they bother.

vlcsnap-00129.jpg

The nurse, like Hannibal, is into becoming.

vlcsnap-00130.jpg

Maybe your murders will become my murders. I’ll be the Chesapeake Ripper now!

vlcsnap-00133.jpg

Jack arrives in the nick of time. But Hannibal has faced death, and therefore has grown. Now it’s Will’s turn.

 

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.

“No eat man, wrong!” ROBINSON CRUSOE (Buñuel 1954)

Although film directors have revisited colonial era stories of cannibalism with gusto, they have generally done so with modern perspectives. Cannibals in most films, therefore, are not the inhuman savages of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Edgar Wallace. The ‘savages’ in even the earliest films are often presented with humour, for example Lupino Lane’s Be my King (1928), Crosby and Hope in Road to Zanzibar (Schertzinger 1941) or The Wrong Box (Forbes 1966) in which amorous cousins Michael and Julia are reassured that she is not a blood relation: she was adopted after her missionary parents were “eaten by his bible class”. In more serious depictions, the ‘savage’ is either a noble one, or at least is offered some humanity, and often his characterisation (we rarely see female savages) is given an ironic edge to criticise modern, “civilised” society. However, a positive image can be as degrading as a negative one.

00 poster.jpg

The example here of the cannibal as colonised savage is Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954). Crusoe is, according to James Joyce “the true prototype of the British colonist… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity”.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Buñuel opens his film of the eighteenth-century novel with a shot of Defoe’s book sitting on an ancient map, a nod to the importance to film makers of classic literature. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy, who was nominated for Best Actor at the 1955 Oscars) tells us he was on a voyage

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

when his father’s warnings of disaster came true; we next see him struggling ashore amid the debris of his lost ship. The island, or at least a severely constrained and isolated space, was considered a prerequisite for cannibalism in the eighteenth century. All his shipmates, or at least the human ones, have been consumed by the sea. Barefoot and hungry, he cracks an egg he finds in a nest, but his European sensibilities do not allow him to eat the baby bird inside.

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

Unlike the savages he is yet to meet, he has little hope of surviving in the wild, but is saved by finding and plundering the wreck of his ship, salvaging building supplies, guns and flint to make fire (more important, he realises, than the gold in the drawer below). His whole focus is to secure himself against the wild world: beasts and savages. Although this is a long way from his early surrealist movies, this is still classic Buñuel, particularly the fever dream, reminiscent of his later films The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie and Belle De Jour in which his giggling father pours water on a pig, while the delirious Crusoe begs for a mouthful.

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

On the island, European civilised life is represented by Crusoe and his weaponry, and Rex, a dog who has also swum ashore. He finds in a ship’s chest a cure for

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

tobacco and the Bible.

Buñuel seems to have felt Crusoe’s pain – he had been exiled from his native Spain for 14 years when he made the film, and was living in Mexico, having lost his job in MOMA after being denounced as a Communist. His longing for home while surrounded by “the other” is obvious in his character’s affection for the dog, while he is quite prepared to shoot birds and stamp on rats and spiders. He domesticates native goats and parrots, but is devastated by the death of Rex, feeling “now truly alone”. Sinking into eccentricity, he talks to two insects, “my little friends” and feeds them an ant.

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

But his difficulties on deciding which species of insects are friends soon escalates as Crusoe has to decide which humans deserve to be saved, and which sacrificed. The difference is their status: as cannibals or victims. His reunification with humans after 18 years comes as we follow his footsteps along the beach, only to be confronted with another distinctly human footprint. His abjection is immediate.

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

“Men-eaters! From that very land I had once thought to sail to. Revolted, horrified, all that night I watched the cannibals at their ghastly entertainment”.

Their guilt is assumed, but only confirmed after they leave and he comes across their fire-pit which is surrounded by human heads and bones: Typically, cannibal literature paints a “primal scene”, the proof of cannibalism, which is usually not the act of eating human flesh, but the aftermath.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

Crusoe plots a technology-based massacre, including another dream sequence, this time of planting a bomb under their fire-pit, but realises

“I had no heaven-sent right to be judge and executioner on these people, who had done me no injury. I would leave them to God’s justice”.

This resolve is short-lived; seeing Friday (Jaime Fernández, who won a Silver Ariel award – the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) escape from the cannibals, he steps in to kill the pursuers and rescue the boy. Friday bows to him in a homo-erotic scene in which Crusoe puts his foot on the boy’s head.

vlcsnap-00039.jpg

He explains that the boy will be called Friday, while Crusoe’s name is “Master” and that they are “friends”. The boy spits out Crusoe’s carefully harvested and baked bread, indicating that he would rather dig up the pursuers whom they buried earlier.

vlcsnap-00043.jpg

Crusoe sits up all night in fear of this new “friend”: “if the cannibals fail to come at me before morning, he might”. He won’t let Friday handle weapons; he shoots birds out the sky to frighten him and puts a strong door on his cave so he can sleep securely. He is reassured to watch Friday eat the flesh of animals, “knowing that the only source of that other meat he so relished”

vlcsnap-00049.jpg

He comes to appreciate once more having a servant. The balance of alterities, man to animal, civilised man to cannibal, master to servant, has been restored, yet his fear of the primitive cannibal increases. When Friday sneaks into his room hoping to try his pipe, Crusoe decides to put leg-irons on him, remembering how he had intended those instruments to be used on the savages he planned to carry off to slavery. But Friday is misjudged: “Friday love Master always.” He seizes Crusoe’s gun, but it’s a suicide plan – “kill Friday – no send Friday away.”

vlcsnap-00052.jpg

vlcsnap-00053.jpg

In a moment that crystallises the dreams of empire, Friday has become the good savage, brought to civilisation by the white man, even feminised when he finds a dress in Crusoe’s chest. The primitive cannibal has submitted to our will, but lovingly, in gratitude rather than through force. In the next scene, Friday is armed and helping hunt wild pigs, with Crusoe’s admission that Friday was “as loyal a friend as any man could want.”

vlcsnap-00054.jpg

But if Friday is to take on Crusoe’s civilisation, he must also accept his morality. Friday finds Crusoe’s gold coins and thinks them a gift from God. “From the devil”, Crusoe mumbles, but Friday goes off to make a necklace with these baubles, which in this closed circle are of value only to the savage. While they shave each other and share a pipe, Crusoe tries to explain the devil and his works – he also has evolved, or converted, from conquistador to missionary. Yet he is baffled by Friday’s broken epistemic posing of the problem of evil – why doesn’t God just kill the devil? Why is God mad when we sin, if he lets the devil tempt us? Friday, the innocent, the savage, baffles Crusoe, the colonialist, expressing Buñuel’s overt anticlericalism.

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

vlcsnap-00060.jpg

They are set upon by the cannibals and Crusoe is saved by Friday’s gun, just as Crusoe’s gun saved Friday years before. The civilised savage fights the cannibal savages for the life of the Englishman. His gunpowder exhausted, Friday kills the third cannibal in hand-to-hand combat, but the beach is swarming with others. Their preparations for a last stand are interrupted by gunfire; to their amazement the beach is now full of white men who are slaughtering the fleeing cannibals. Like Friday’s foes, these white men have prisoners tied up – their ship’s captain and bosun, against whom they have mutinied.

vlcsnap-00072.jpg

Friday and Crusoe free the prisoners, who agree to take Crusoe and “my man” to England if he helps them recover the ship, which of course they do in due course, tempting the ‘civilised’ mutineers, like the devil, with Friday’s gold necklace.

vlcsnap-00074.jpg

vlcsnap-00075.jpg

vlcsnap-00076.jpg

Dressed like an Englishman again, Crusoe makes a melancholy farewell to his kingdom. He has defeated the evil of the savages and the mutineers, whom he leaves to rule his kingdom.

vlcsnap-00078.jpg

vlcsnap-00079.jpg

Friday has witnessed the violence and oppression of the “civilised” white men, but avers that he is not afraid to go back to civilisation “if master is not”. He is already dressed as a servant. The cannibal can become tame, can learn to eat what he is told, but clearly he can never become “your own kind.”

 

IF YOU LIKE MY BLOG, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO RECOMMEND IT (WITH DISCRETION) TO FRIENDS ON SOCIAL MEDIA.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS, YOU CAN USE THE TAG, OR EMAIL ME ON CANNIBALSTUDIES@GMAIL.COM.