This week is a what we’re calling a blog crossover. My friend and fellow movie blogger, Angela Barnes, writes The Late-Night Picture Show. She gets all the credit for this idea.
This all came about because, as Angela explains on her blog, “I don’t particularly like scary movies. Or, to be completely truthful, I can only handle what I call ‘Vincent Price scary’ movies–high camp stuff with kinda cheesy special effects that I can laugh at and enjoy. However, there are many good horror movies out there, and I’d really like to see some of them. I’ve found that I’m better able to cope with the scaries if I’m watching with other people, preferably folks who don’t mind my talking back to the screen.”
So we decided on Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face and posted the conversation on both blogs. It’s a classic about a doctor, Génessier, who kidnaps young women in order to perform face transplants on his disfigured daughter, Christiane. He is aided by an inexplicably devoted assistant, Louise.
ANGELA BARNES: Do you agree that the doctor ultimately saw Christiane and his dogs as pretty much the same—not as living beings with minds of their own but merely tools to be used for accomplishing his goals and attaining scientific greatness? He certainly didn’t seem to care about Christiane any more than he did the dogs—he kept all of them locked away and only paid attention to them when he needed them for his work. Also, I think the doctor made Christiane’s mask deliberately blank and featureless to further dehumanize her and classify her as just another test subject.
JT WILLIAMS: I like the idea of further dehumanizing Christiane with the mask, and I find it interesting that she goes ahead and wears it. I dunno. Stockholm Syndrome? Add to the dehumanization the idea that, with the mask on, her movements about the house become almost ghost like.
It might also be worth considering the idea of Grande Dame Guignol or Hagsploitation, which really doesn’t begin until 1962 with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, but I think its roots are actually in Eyes Without A Face. She’s not the aging actress or trapped older woman, but she is trapped, is facially distorted (just not by age), is at first a willing participant in her father’s doings, and finally acts out violently.
AB: Were the cops just as bad though? They threw poor Paulette in an extremely dangerous situation in an effort to catch the doctor. Were the police abusing their power in doing this? It was her first offense in shoplifting and they scared her into being the bait for them. They didn’t seem to care at about her safety. And what was up with Louise? I get that she felt indebted to the doctor because he fixed her face, but to find and lure young women to be his skin donors? Disposing of bodies? I wish they’d given more details about her because I can’t believe that her obligation to the doctor was the whole story.
JTW: I agree with all of this. I really like the movie, but at the same time I find it pretty misogynistic. The female victims have no sense of agency. The only woman who has any sense of agency throughout the film is evil, and Christiane asserts her own literally in the last five minutes of the movie. The victims are basically objects and portrayed pretty much as complete dupes.
AB: Did the odd score sometimes detract from the movie for you? It did for me. I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing whenever Louise’s calliope-style theme music started up. I’ve been trying to figure out what the composer and Franju could’ve been saying with that music but I can’t come up with anything. Did they think it would make it more scary? It was simply confusing to me.
JTW: Calliope music, yeah, very distracting and also not sure what the deal was with that. Juxtapostion? Irony? Speaking of irony, while I like the doc’s face getting mauled, geez that’s heavy handed. Like being whacked in the head with The Great Hammer Of Poetic Justice.
AB: Ha! I didn’t even notice that. I was too busy cheering the dogs on! It’s not often a movie ends exactly as I hope! Ultimately, I felt Georges Franju wanted to make a more realistic villain for his horror movie rather than the usual cartoonish “mad scientist.” I think his choice of the doctor just being a father trying to repair his disfigured daughter, while initially making the viewer sympathetic to the doctor, ends up making us his accomplices. Our sitting through the (intentionally) graphic surgery scenes seals our bond and guilt. I think that was quite groundbreaking.
JTW: There’s also the ripple effect the movie has in many, many directions. Almodovar basically repeats the idea of Christiane in The Skin I Live In, but adds some very weird twists in terms of sexuality. Jesus Franco basically did a more horrorred up ripoff of this with The Awful Dr. Orloff. And then there’s the just graphic face stuff that goes from Franju to Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Hannibal Lecter to John Woo to Devil’s Rejects. Then just the mask, which had to influence not only John Carpenter, but probably Abre Los Ojos and Vanilla Sky.
AB: So are we going to speculate on what happens to Christiane after the movie, or no, because spoilers?
JTW: I drop spoilers all the time, especially cuz the movies are old and cuz I don’t care.
AB: O.K.! So again there’s the connection between her and animals, in that the doves, also former test subjects, fly off with her into the forest. But now, it’s as though she’s embracing her reality—yes, she was a science project, yes, she was treated like an animal, yes, she wears this eerie mask…she’s now taking control of her life and living in the damn forest! How long will she live? Who knows? But it’s finally on her own terms.