May 11, 2010
posted by Caroline Picard
Io: A slippery member of the female sex, she keeps the company of men. More likely an advocate of Artemis than Aphrodite.
Andromeda: aka “The Beatrice.” A one dimensional counter-point to the film, she suffers because she is not only beautiful but also good.
Cassiopiea: The Queen of middle age, also beautiful and also petty. See also Julie Cooper (The OC) and Atiia of the Julli (Rome).
Danaë: The adopted mother of Jason whom is only ever known as a mother and therefore is in some sense the mother of the film.
Stygian Witches: Like the fates, they possess a mystical sight. They share an eye, obscenely ugly. See also Pessoa’s Watchers and Wagner’s Marmes.
Medusa: The Gorgan who turns men to stone with her eyes.
When I saw Clash of the Titans I was taken with the women portrayed therein. Given that the film is one about men, the women function like static, archetypal constellations—constellations that are nevertheless essential to the world they inhabit. On the one hand these figures are collapsible, by which I mean they lack interior lives. They represent cutouts of particular feminine attributes. While the their male protagonists also lack interiority, the camera focuses on those men, so that the viewer is so captivated by the surface action, that prospective depth is assumed, if not forgotten.
Of the male characters, Jason is the most developed, suffering from the anxieties of being a bastard son and not knowing where he came from, while also losing his adopted family. I’ve always liked thinking about these types of mythical stories, precisely because the humanity, or depth, of any one person is denied. The women then serve an alternate purpose. They serve the world they inhabit as auxiliary forces, providing the driving impetus–whether that is spawning a crisis, offering advise, or needing rescue.
For instance, Io is Jason’s “guide,” a supernatural adviser with more wisdom and insight than Jason himself. She is also like a tom-boy, capable of fighting, she accompanies the men on their journey and, even, dictates (to some extant) their course. She is the obvious heroine in the film, privileged to travel the ends of the earth despite her otherwise excluded gender.
Meantime, Andromeda is a counter-point to Io. Andromeda stays at home. She is not a goddess. Instead, she is subject to the decisions of her parents, the responsibilities of her domestic sphere (aka the kingdom she is said to threaten and one day reign over) and her own beauty. Like Dante’s Beatrice, Andromeda is more plot point than person. She provides the gravitational weight, on the other side of the journey, representing home, stability. As such the crisis at her pole in the narrative (i.e. the crisis in her kingdom) is the measure of consequence. Death on an adventure-journey is not as meaningful as death or madness in a domestic sphere. The hero’s adventure calls for danger, whereas the home is intentionally safe, again, providing a place of return. While Andromeda is not the most suprising character , she stands in contrast to Io. The Tomboy vs. The Princess.
Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopiea is more interesting. Wielding a larger (albeit ill-advised) power, she makes the mistake of hubris, boasting that her daughter is more beautiful than anyone in the world (including the gods), while also claiming that she the Queen and her husband the King are more powerful than the gods. This Queen is responsible for the narrative’s crisis; she is the one to say out loud to the Gods (Hades) what her husband has so far only muttered to other people. It is the misguided hubris of her husband and herself that ultimately leads to the Kraken’s release. (And, funnily enough, hurts Zeus in a kind of Judeo-Christian way, where he feels his love of humanity is being questioned).
Danaë is the other mother in the film, Jason’s adopted mother. She dies at sea and has even less of a role than Jason’s father, the fisher man. Nevertheless as the silent caricature that she is, it is the love of Jason’s adopted parents which ultimately sets him off on his journey of vengeance. In other words, because of Danaë, because the first 10 minutes of the film is dedicated to Jason’s more or less silent family life, we project Jason’s interiority, assuming his upset because we have met his family. Because they are killed by the gods in a haphazard accident, Jason wages himself against those same gods. Danaë is thus significant as being the mother of the film itself, the starting off point.
Then of course the Stygian Witches are just badass awesome. Gross, chuckling, mean-spirit, hideous, they share one eye and can see the future.
And lastly, Medusa. The monster that must be slain. Here is the real point of interest for me. Medusa is known far and wide for her ability to turn men to stone. And yet, Io speaks to Jason before he goes in to kill her. She explains Medusa’s story, that Medusa was once raped and as a result she is capable of killing men with her eyes. Because Medusa has no ill-will against women, women are not permitted to enter her cave. Therefore Io can only help Jason before he faces Medusa. They have a training session on the boat–one rife with sexual tension. In fact it is the first point in the film where Io is admitted any sexuality whatsoever (beyond what is afforded via the eye of the camera). What’s significant about this is that Jason is about to face the most terrifying aspects of female-ness–i.e. the reptilian, heartless, vagina den tata that is Medusa. Perhaps in order to start facing that element, he must awake to a latent tension between himself and his Jungian anima, Io.
Having said all that, I am further interested in that moment, because it is a moment in which Io, herself a victim of rape, turns against another woman (Medusa, who was also a subject of rape and, according to Io, that rape is the cause of her consequent stony gaze) in order to help a man over come that woman. Io identifies more strongly with Jason than she does with Medusa.
Unfortunately I can’t come to any specific conclusions at this stage, but that scene has made me think about one division within female identity, that which takes place (in childhood) between the tom-boy and the coquette. Or, in adulthood, between say a Kate Mansfield and Katherine Hepburn. Or, in other terms, the sexual bombshell and the savvy idiosyncratic, often mannish, woman. I feel like the tomboy position is privileged, insofar as the tomboy is able to share the world of men. Yet in order to do so, she must deny an exhibition of her sexuality. Via Io, I started thinking about her as exhibiting a castrated femininity. Furthermore it seems like a kind of trick, actually. Because Io is really just in service to Jason–and while that makes sense if we are to believe that she is only a projection of his psyche, if she is in fact a separate entity, she’s like a warrior lap dog.
I feel like these thoughts are in some sense wild and ungrounded at the moment. Probably they are outdated too. Nevertheless I thought it was interesting to think about all the same. Probably what’s also outdated are the archetypes of femaninity presented in Clash of The Titans. The warrior woman, the princess, the evil queen, the mother, the crone witches, the sexual beast–but, as I say, I found it to be an interesting cross-section.
April 27, 2010
posted by Caroline Picard
Last Thursday I saw a production of Robert Duncan’s Medea in Kolchis as part of the Poetry Project’s Robert Duncan Symposium. I loved it. We had to RSVP to get the address–an empty where house space across the street from The Hideout. The room was empty, about 20 people came. Being a spring evening it was quite cold. We sat in an assortment of folding chairs in the center of the otherwise plain space. And then, the players came out–I made some video clips of the evening and you might get a sense for things.
You might ask what the play is about. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know that I was supposed to understand that, even. I think instead I was there to absorb an impression, to take on the intuitions of performance and language. I know it is about a king (Arthur, played by Sandra Lim) who is interested in fiction. He names his daughter (who I think is played by 2 women–Monica Fambrough & Sara Gothard, though only ever referred to as 1) Medea and is always waiting for a “Jason” to come and take her hand. Arthur has fabricated an object he calls the golden fleece. He is a poet at the end of his life. Central to the play is the wonderfully lascivious nursemaid, Garrow, (played by John Beer, who also directed the piece), she goes between all of the characters serving them in their needs as much as she functions as the meta-glue between the play’s movements; a regular discussion of her age and the romantic exploits of her youth make into a kind of time signature for the whole piece. Jason (played by Patrick Culliton) arrives with whom I think is his tutor, The Doctor (Travis Nichols) who seems to represent a hard-fast reason, arguing against the self-indulgent Arthur. Doctor point’s to the way in which Arthur manipulates the people around him in order to make poems out of them. Jason as though to comiserate says, (what made me laugh out loud) “I don’t think [Arthur] likes my poetry.” Meantime the doctor continues to woo (and fail) and old flame, Edna (Nicole Wilson) who has terrific intuitions and believes in mystical things–I felt like her character probably listened to some combination of Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective–wanted Romance, not love (an interesting and curious distinction). The performers read from their scripts and sometimes read from cards, reflecting Duncan’s discussion of self-awareness (i.e. the emperor as one who makes fiction into real life in order to mythologize his experience). As you’ll see from the following clip, Arthur does a good job of his stretching exercises, what all emperors should do when imparting truth onto youths.
One of my favorite moments was when all the performers read their different lines out loud, at once, different characters overlapping cacuaphony and intermittent silence. At any rate, Medea (only ever dressed in white night dresses–one of them victorian, the other a kind of sweatshirt/cotton–the ruffles on the victorian one created a kind of focal point for me, which I found interesting to think about, i.e. what does it mean if a woman’s nightdress is a focal point in a play, especially if the surrounding action is so much larger and maybe that’s what those victorian ruffles were always supposed to do), falls for Jason and wants to seduce/marry him, Garrow tells them that in order to do so Jason must kill the serpant, Jason wants the golden fleece and in order to get the golden fleece must kill the emperor (Arthur), except he can’t at the last minute and so Medea kills him (Arthur/her father) instead. In the end, the Doctor tries to get back with Edna who refuses because he does not believe and cannot relate to her terrific imagination. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Victorian nightdress was the only focal point. Garrow was another, perhaps more obvious, counterpoint–and perfectly suited, I think, as the cross-dressing old wo/man, kind of like a sexy Tieresias, who’s experience and exploits and dark dress contrast with Medea’s own Virgin Suicide innocence.
Can you believe that this all happened in a tiny, unknown, cold little room in the city? It’s amazing! I love these sorts of situations because they seem to bring work I would not otherwise see to life–this kind of project seems very like the apartment gallery project, where much work goes into it, and the payoff comes in the sense of community and creative expression that results in an instant, i.e. the instant that the public sees the performance, (or art). There is no measurable affect that endures beyond that moment…it’s brilliant, I think. And always makes me very happy.