It’s a real pleasure to get back into writing and researching; administration has its rewards, but I think I’d much rather teach, read, and write about the things that inspire and interest me. Since the sabbatical has technically started, I’ve been working on my Novels in Context database project, but I’ve also been working up several proposals for conferences and book projects. I’m going to take my chair’s word at face value and start trying to publish on horror film, which has fascinated me for most of my life, first as a fan and later as both a fan and scholar; the first sally into that breach is a piece I’m drafting on Crawlspace (1986), starring the always-entertaining Klaus Kinski. On the eighteenth-century front, I’ve got two projects I want to submit for the ASECS 2015 meeting, one on Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta (1758) and one on the advertising savvy of Isaac Fawkes. Here are the working drafts:
Isaac Fawkes, Brand Image, and the Modern Entertainment Economy
Isaac Fawkes was the first modern magician in England, and he was also the first to make a real living from what Simon During usefully terms “secular magic.” He reportedly left a fortune of more than £10,000—an extraordinary sum–at his death in 1731. Fawkes flourished during the 1720s, after the disastrous “financial illusion” of the South Sea Bubble, when so many lost their purses by another kind of legerdemain; he was depicted in William Hogarth’s works, notably Masquerades and Operas (1724) and Southwark Fair (1733), as part of the fairground sensibility that, for many, had invaded the legitimate stage with their “irrational entertainments,” as Johnson termed them.
Alongside these important cultural contexts, however, is the relatively new medium of newspaper advertising. One might attribute Fawkes’ success not only to the way he was able to tap into a popular zeitgeist of sorts, but also–and even more importantly–his canny, entrepreneurial navigation of the world of advertising. He advertised relentlessly, using and reusing key images and turns of phrase to generate a brand image for himself that helped him rich, famous, and even iconographic. He was chiefly known for his “his most surprising Tricks by Dexterity of Hand, with his Cards, Eggs, Corn, Mice, curious India Birds, and Money,” which advertising language was routinely accompanied by a woodcut illustrating just that–this is the woodcut would eventually come to signify his brand identity. In the woodcut, used throughout his career and, apparently, by his son after him, Fawkes occupies the center panel. Surrounded by the tools of his trade, he sits at a table fingering a cloth. Birds, dice, coins, and cards lie scattered on the table before him and in the visual space behind him. Sometimes two additional side-panels would feature a well-known contortionist act he presided over, but in many cases, only the center portrait-like panel was used.
Indeed, the visibility of his presence in the cultural landscape of early eighteenth-century entertainments suggests that he is central to the shape of the irrational entertainments so worrisome to the arbiters of culture. His very success became a source of publicity; for a time, the James Street playhouse where he typically could be found putting on a show was colloquially known as “Fawkes’ theater, and one advertisement, nearing the end of Fawkes’s career, rather tongue-in-cheek, even advertises that he will “divert the Town no more than this Season, . . . being already so much encouraged as to be able to live privately in a handsome Manner.” This essay looks at Fawkes’ use of advertising to understand his particular brand, and particularly, the work of his brand in the construction of a modern entertainment economy.
Voluntary Exile, Henrietta, and the Female (Novelist’s) Choice
‘[C]an you acquit yourself of imprudence, when you reflect that you have thrown yourself into a situation which renders you liable to them?’ (Lennox 117)
Here, the upright mother-figure Mrs. Willis addresses the eponymous heroine of Charlotte Lennox’s 1758 novel, Henrietta, who has just been virtually assaulted by a lecherous lordling under the roof of her own rented apartments–which, unbeknownst to her, are in much the house of a bawd. She has discovered but some of the “inconveniencies” (116) of self-exile for a young, well-bred woman of little independent means and few trustworthy friends. In Hennrietta, Lennox tells the the story of a beautiful and genteel but orphaned young woman who is repeatedly forced out of secure positions and into perilous environments as a result of her just pride and her moral rectitude. An “an unknown wanderer, without friends or protectors” (235), she must learn to navigate a dangerous social landscape without compromising her integrity and in a world that tries constantly–in her words–to “[barter] for me without my consent” (61). Though her exile begins as the product of her father’s choice to marry for love rather than fortune, it quickly becomes an expression of her own desire to author her own being, to give or withhold consent, and to learn how to do so with clarity and moral purpose.
While her voluntary exile is dangerous and disempowering in several ways, making her vulnerable to the many kinds of predators around her (both female and male), it is also empowering and revelatory; she chooses to eschew family bonds that are contingent and interested, thereby asserting an image of female autonomy. Unlike the Richardsonian characters that Henrietta bears some similarity to, however, her autonomy does not occur primarily within the confines of a home; the family structure has radically expanded, and it includes guardians, aunts and great aunts, a brother she has not seen for over a decade. Indeed, she is always traveling–we first meet her in a stagecoach–and experimenting with different modes of being in the world (an independent lodger, a lady’s maid, a paid companion). Her assertion of the freedom to do so, while not free of danger, marks her as a new model for young readers. Nevertheless, she is a model that, for all her “firmness of virtue” (197), is also sometimes subject to the author’s own satirical voice, much like Joseph Andrews is for Henry Fielding.
This paper will primarily outline the tensions endemic to Henrietta’s exiled state; however, it will also gesture toward a larger concern: I argue that this novel thematizes the shifting literary landscape of the mid-eighteenth century as an allegory of exile–bound up, indeed, with Henrietta’s own. As a reader, Henrietta rejects the amatory fictions pressed upon her by Mrs. Eccles (the landlady of dubious morals), extravagantly imitated by the flighty Miss Woodby (misguided “particular friend”), and directing the independence of Miss Belmour (independent young woman to whom Henrietta becomes confidante and companion, and whose company lands her in the unfortunate position of being procured as a mistress by her very own brother). And yet, Henrietta does not do away with the amatory mode; what we see is rather an incorporation of it, legitimated by satirical self-consciousness. Lennox is able to provide a new model not only for young readers, but also for female writers in the wake of Richardson, Fielding, and the gendered rejection of the amatory tradition.
The Kinski Crawlspace between Arthouse Cinema and Popular Horror
Klaus Kinski’s late minor film Crawlspace (1986, dir. David Schmoeller), one of his last among over a hundred, has little place in either the Kinski canon or among the ranks of films for horror buffs–he is most famous for his collaborations with Werner Herzog. John Kenneth Muir memorably describes Crawlspace as a film that “plays like an R-rated episode of Three’s Company, gone horribly wrong, with Gunther as a deranged Mr. Roper” (484), while John Stanley, less energized, terms it a “[p]ointless psycho-killer movie” (58). The plot, in which Karl Gunther, the demented son (Kinski) of a Nazi death camp surgeon, traps, terrorizes, and hunts his young, voluptuous, big-haired female renters while he himself is consumed in a private, repeated performance of his own death drive, is typical horror fare. The scenes of death–which as viewers we know are coming and eagerly anticipate–are vividly imagined; the spectacle of Klaus Kinski pursuing the young Lori on a luge-like contraption through the titular crawl spaces of his apartment building is gleefully, outrageously camp, in keeping with the pleasures of cult exploitation and mainstream slasher films alike. Fans of horror should be engaged, and yet they’re not. As of writing, it has not a single positive review on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer.
Significantly, however, Crawlspace also addresses itself to fans of arthouse horror and cinephiles, particularly in its stylized and yet opaque, resistant visual treatment of Gunther’s apparent inner-torment about his addiction to death. After each murder, he plays a game of Russian roulette, and when he hears the click of the empty chamber, he takes it for a sign that he continue his path: “So be it.” We are impelled to both find sympathy and disgust for the tortured psychopath. The camera work is dramatic and almost as eerie as Kinski’s characteristic performance mode; other anti-illusionist devices and cinematic tricks to please those “in the know” abound. Gunther’s restrained witticism about his apartment having “no vampires,” allows Kinski fans to congratulate themselves on their intertextual knowledge of his Nosferatu, and Tania Balsam’s (Lori’s) ascent to her landlord’s second-floor home is reminiscent of her father’s similar ascent in Psycho. Crawlspace has two audiences, it seems–those in it for the gore and the humor, and those in it for the cinephilic identification.
As noted film theorist Jeffrey Sconce points out, drawing on Christian Metz, “All films depend on primary cinematic identification. The viewer must make this identification and assume a certain subject position for the images to be ‘meaningful’” (114). In the case of Crawlspace, however, the primary form of pleasure is opaque; are we watching an arthouse film, or are we watching a “pointless psycho-killer movie” that draws us in because it is so over the top, so improbable, so generically satisfying? I argue that this confusion is why the film has received no critical or popular attention; it does not read as “meaningful” to its audience, because its audience is unclear, even bifurcated.
The root cause of this bifurcated source of pleasure derives, ultimately, from the self-indulgent, self-conscious, and yet also tired repetition of the genre’s formulae, embodied in Kinski’s characterization of Gunther. It is an aestheticized film in which Karl Gunther, played by Nikolaus Gunther Nakszynski, who became Klaus Kinski, functions as an amalgamation of the film’s double aesthetic. Gunther’s house, the setting of Crawlspace, offers him a world of his own devising, an illusion of his own utter, cosmic control and a send-up of Kinski’s infamous hatred of being directed. His character is at once a refusal, a closed book, and a collection of cliches–much like the actor, who by this time in his career, and in this film, had become a caricature of himself, a “television talk show favorite” (Bock and Bergfelder 244). Neither fully arthouse film nor horror (cult or mainstream), Crawlspace is instead part of the Kinski franchise transformed by way of Charles Brand’s Empire Pictures, which also released Goulies (1985), Re-Animator (1985), Robot Holocaust (1986), and other gems. It lives or dies in the audience’s primary cinematic identification with this transformed Kinski franchise.