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March 1994


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Jonathan Beasley Murray <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 4 Mar 1994 17:12:18 -0600
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Unfortunately I haven't seen _Reservoir Dogs_, so I can't comment on much of
Louis' analysis.  Incidentally, apparently _RD_ has been banned on video in
the UK, so has therefore become something of a cult film, playing every
weekend or so at a cinema in Leicester Square.
However, I would very much like to hear more on _Naked_, and offer a couple
of comments:
> It seems to me that one of the many important differences between
> Reservoir Dogs and Naked is that Naked makes the audience complicit in the
> violence by establishing sympathy for Johnny.
"complicit" is clearly a loaded word here.  I felt that, for me at least, my
sympathy with Johnny was very much attenuated, and I'm not even sure if that
is the right word.  We don't even really achieve much understanding of
Johnny's motives--whatever those may be.  He is very much
"exteriorized"--unlike, for example, Travis Bickle (sp?) in _Taxi Driver_.
Indeed, (and perhaps _pace_ the differentiation Louis sets up between _RD_
and _Naked_), Johnny's predominant *linguistic* mode is clearly irony: both
mocking and self-deprecating.  The most sympathetic moment for Johnny
himself is when he says "fuck off" to his ex-girlfriend.  The film resists
an attempt to scavenge around under this irony to find a truer *verbal*
expression of Johnny's character.  Moreover, while it would be easy to
suggest that his identity is constituted in his physicality, or his physical
violence towards women, his ease with words is clearly also of paramount
importance, and in some kind of relation to this (noxious) physicality and
corporeality.  This in itself constitutes some kind of irony: after all, he
is very funny at times, and not least when he is most brutally caustic and
depressing--ie. when his words are at their most violent.
I realize that I am to some extent re-defining the term "irony" here, and
thus moving the goalposts, but so be it.
> I'm not
> suggesting that Naked gives us real people and real violence, but that it
> breaks down the irony that Dogs insists on.
> The violence in Naked, and indeed the film itself, does
> not want to tarry at the level of the signifier but aims at signifieds
> and even referents. Its power, and the power of DT's performance, is that
> we come to see a vicious sociopath's suffering and we come to like him.
> His violence is not so different in kind from our own.
This last is definitely the case, but I'm not sure if it follows from what
precedes it.  First, I'm not sure what Louis means about not tarrying at the
level of the signifier: as I suggest above, I think Johnny (and we) delight
in linguistic play enabled by the instability of the signifier detatched
from signified.  Second, I wonder how much we ever are interested in "a
vicious sociopath's suffering."  This would suggest some kind of tragic
hero: and indeed, I am very interested in the status of _Naked_ as tragedy,
but it seems a socialized tragedy rather than an individuated one, although
the film seems ambiguous on this score (as the slight suggestion of Johnny
as Christ underlines).  It is the move to socialized tragedy that I saw as
the connection between this and Edward Bond.
> In dogs the
> violence is anothers, the signifiers of societies, but it is never related
> to our own violence. Thus we can see Dogs and feel gleeful after, as after
> a bull fight, where as Naked provokes an affect that is far harder to
> endure, but finally much more important.
I wonder what Louis means by this.  Again, my literary link with Bond would
suggest a formulation such as a "refusal of catharsis", but I would also
want to link this idea back to the suggestion of complicity with which Louis
began his analysis.
>                         lgs