Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Secret Beyond The Door Fritz Lang 1948

Fritz Lang's The Secret Beyond The Door is a take on the Bluebeard story by Charles Parrault in fifteenth century France. Bluebeard married a young wife and forbade her to use the key he temptingly gives her to open a secret room in his mansion. Why have all his previous wives disappeared, why does she marry him at all knowing this? of course she unlocks the room and discovers BB's true identity, a knife wealding lady dismemberer: arms, legs and blood litter the room like a butchers. What's the fascination with testing a ladies instinct to be curious? The Bluebeard story seems to be saying that beyond 'curiosity got the cat' that a man has a right to his secrets and a lady better get used to that now - and resist the desire to interfere -- just get away woman SHOOO! Pah! what a load of old tripe. What the advocates of this kind of myth didn't realise was that ladies have MUCH better things to do with their time than snooping around. A n y w a y Lang's film is gem none the less. Dear Joan Bennett, how I love her, the leading lady here: Celia Barrett Lamphere. We see her many times throughout the grand era of the silver screen, my favourite is her invocation of head witch Madame Blanc in Argento's Suspiria. She falls in love while on holiday and doesn't really 'get to know' her beau until they get home. Not until her wedding reception does she get the guided tour of her new pad. She is mortified to realise that hubby's habit for collecting rooms is a bit dark. He likes to reconstruct the spaces where men have horribly killed their wives and questions whether the rooms themselves had caused the aberrant behaviour or the evil was always there in the vicious beasts. All very macabre - but this is also coupled with his odd psycho twitching when he smells lilac. Its not looking good girlfriend! But, putting her best foot forward she plays amateur psychoanalyst, a favourite late forties past-time. Unlock his secret she must and where better to start than with the room he has said she must never enter. She's smart and gets a cast of the key, breaks in and oh, oh dear - she wishes she hadn't because the room is a replica of her bedroom, she runs over to the window, pulls back the curtains - brick. You guess the rest - the films quite hard to get hold of so lobby your local arthouse cinema to show it. You can see a clip of it here.

Again this gives texture to my favourite quandry of whether architectural spaces can have a psychic resonance, a melancholia that leads to brooding. I can feel a Stone Tapes blog in the pipeline. I'm also intrigued by films whose spaces are both a metaphor for the psychic state of its inhabitants and the sites of their acting out of their traumas. Psychoanalysis and the whole development of the unconscious as a psychic place heralded the rethinking of criminology. The late forties dramas sit on the cusp of the essentialist moralistic noir era of the thirties and forties and the forward thinking modern psychological thrillers of the early fifties. Another example of how cultural forms, including theatre and film, become testing grounds for new social ways of being. Arguably, Joan Bennetts face carried us through this transition.

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