Tuesday, 28 September 2010

"Any Zombies Out There?" Undead Film Studies

Image from I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
The zombies in these films are a kind of revolutionary force of predators without a revolutionary program. Their only concern is to satisfy an instinctual drive for predation; a drive which, as is pointed out in Day of the Dead, serves no actual biological purpose. They appear and attack without explanation or reason, violating taken for granted principles of sufficient cause and rationality. Because of this, they are especially threatening to the surviving human beings. Enemies such as Nazis or Communists are comprehensible in terms of their historical backgrounds, economic interests, religious, political or philosophic beliefs. But these zombies are a new breed of enemy in that they do not operate according to the same underlying motivations human beings share in common. They are a nihilistic enemy which, as lifeless, spiritless automatons, exemplify the epitome of passive nihilism. They wander the landscape exhibiting only the bare minimum of power that is required for locomotion and the consumption of living flesh. They must steal life from the strong because they possess such a depressed store of innate energy. They are, literally, the walking dead. [John Marmysz, 'From "Night" to "Day": Nihilism and the Living Dead', First published in Film and Philosophy, vol. 3, 1996] 
In [George Romero's films], antagonism and horror are not pushed out of society (to the monster) but are rather located within society (qua the monster). The issue isn’t the zombies; the real problem lies with the “heroes”—the police, the army, good old boys with their guns and male bonding fantasies. If they win, racism has a future, capitalism has a future, sexism has a future, militarism has a future. Romero also implements this critique structurally. As Steven Shaviro observes, the cultural discomfort is not only located in the films’ graphic cannibalism and zombie genocide: the low-budget aesthetics makes us see “the violent fragmentation of the cinematic process itself." The zombie in such a representation may be uncanny and repulsive, but the imperfect uncleanness of the zombie’s face—the bad make-up, the failure to hide the actor behind the monster’s mask—is what breaks the screen of the spectacle. [Lars Bang Larsen, 'Zombies of Immaterial Labor: the Modern Monster and the Death of Death', E-Flux, No. 15, April 2010
The fear of one's own body, of how one controls it and relates to it, and the fear of not being able to control other bodies, those bodies whose exploitation is too fundamental to capitalist economy, are both at the heart of whiteness. Never has this horror been more deliriously evoked than in these films of the Dead [Richard Dyer,  White: Essays in Race and Culture (London: Routledge, 1997)].

Film Studies For Free is quaking in its digital boots as a whole host of freely accessible zombie studies gathers menacingly on the online horizon and shuffles ever nearer.... No, no, no, nooooo...


Resistance is futile on this the Night of the Living Links.

(The only comforting thought is that film zombies also grow old and win the undying loyalty of their fans...)

    1 comment:

    Lucy Fife Donaldson said...

    Great list - will be definitely be trawling my way through these. Also, I couldn't see it, so you might want to add another Tony Williams article - on Land of the Dead, in Rouge: http://www.rouge.com.au/7/land_of_the_dead.html