Sunday, February 21, 2016

Seen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie AutistSeen and Not Seen: Confessions of a Movie Autist by Jasun Horsley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm nearly finished this now. I took a break after the chapter which is really a brilliant review of The Counsellor, another film I haven't seen (directed by Ridley Scott) that did badly at the box office. Now I want to see it, if only to find out if I can sit through it. Evidently it ends horrifically with the suggested torture-murder of Penelope Cruz, just another victim of Mexican drug wars and the cross-border snuff film trade. I stopped reading because all the violence was beginning to seem too 'personal' -- it seems Jasun Horsley has no other subject or obsession, and I'm grateful in way, that he has made it his mission to view and write about films which depict extreme violence, often sexualized and directed against women. I thank him for that because it means I can go on skipping those films, or just read about them through Horsley's eyes.

I took a breather from SEEN & NOT SEEN to read The Story of O. over Valentine's Day -- the timing was unintentional. The Story of O. also shocked me, in a different way (I wrote a brief review of it at Goodreads but I've since had afterthoughts that I'd like to explore some other time). Usually I don't like to be shocked, but I'm deciding i could get used to it. I thought Story of O. would allow me to consider the subject of sexualized violence against women from a female perspective, and it did but I wasn't prepared for Pauline Reage's detached, poetic style -- so much the opposite of Horsley's. I've nearly concluded Story of O. is a feminist novel -- at least, in a backhanded way it is, as it depicts men as monsters and women as utter dupes and victims, and cold-bloodedly moves toward some inevitable climax that never really arrives. Same subject, but a totally opposite approach since Reage leaves herself out of the narrative whereas Horsley inserts himself everywhere.

For example in SEEN & NOT SEEN we learn that while watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre he sustained an erection throughout. That's amazing -- I mean, it's a detail but it tends to stick in your mind. You wonder why, and you read on to find out. That little detail comes up again in the penultimate chapters about Jasun's brother, the famous English suicide-artist Sebastian Horsley who died of an overdose in 2010. I had never heard of Sebastian although he was famous enough to be interviewed on Q by Jian Gomeshi. I watched five minutes of that interview before I had to shut it down -- it reminded me of things I can't quite name or put my finger on, and five minutes was all I could take of that video.

The same is not true of Jasun's writing which is fluid, self-aware, and revealing of nuances that usually get left out of film criticism. I don't know why, but I keep thinking of Pico Iyer -- whom I can't seem to bring myself to read -- as the possible antithesis of Jasun Horsley -- I'll have to get back to you on that.

Horsley is smooth, but he's not slick. He's cool, but not cold. His prose is weirdly naked, and that could be why it's hard to put down. You think "this boy really needs an editor" but you don't have time to care, since he keeps dragging you down a path that always circles back to some personal trauma. I think that's the hook. You want to know what happened to him, back in childhood, that made him like this. And also, what was it that destroyed his whole family, the nuclear one, the father-mother-brother trio with Jasun the sole survivor who ran away and lived to tell the tale. That's the crazy subtext to all this, I think, but I'm having trouble being objective because for the last six months I've got immersed in Jasun's online world.

Come to think of it, it's unlike any other world I've ever been immersed in. I don't often get immersed in anything because deep down I don't like getting lost -- but in this case, it's like reading Alice in Wonderland at age 8 all over again. It's so farflung. Obviously, Jasun Horsley has had nothing better to do for most of his life than explore. Near as I can figure, he grew up rich and neglected. First he explored comic books and movies, the more violent the better. Then he ran away and explored America through the lens of Clint Eastwood, Pauline Kael and spaghetti westerns. Then he nearly died of love and ran to Morocco where he met Paul Bowles. After that, he tried to reconnect with his famous-notorious brother, friend of criminals, darling of the London degenerate art scene,, before leaving for Guatemala to become a shaman. I'm sure I'm leaving out a lot -- at some point he even tries to make in Hollywood as he's writing scripts along with film criticism. He goes into all this in SEEN & NOT SEEN -- obviously he can't get away from it -- it's his life story and it's fascinating -- not in the way that old Hollywood movies are, with a causal structure that unfolds inevitably like an old-fashioned sentence -- but more like a Batman movie with special effects, or like BRAZIL (which I found hard to sit through) --

And yet, you can't help feeling he's searching for an ending, almost in the classical sense of a finale that will tie all this together for better or worse or a bit of both.

Which reminds me, I still need to read the final chapter. Maybe it really will end.

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