Apr 11, 2014

The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man

As far as I am concerned, only one film has ever come close to capturing the perturbing perversity and grating lyrical grotesquery of French quasi-Nietzschean novelist Georges Bataille and it happens to be a short student film directed by South African auteur Aryan Kaganof (when he still used his birth name Ian Kerkhof) as his graduate project at the Netherlands Film and Television Academy. Of course, having just won the coveted ‘Golden Calf’ award (the Dutch equivalent to the Oscar) for his minimalistic 16mm low-budget avant-garde debut feature Kyodai Makes The Big Time (1992) at the 1992 Netherlands Film Festival (NFTVA), Kaganof was no uncultivated amateur in his formative years but a shockingly mature auteur with a distinct and uncompromising vision who had almost singlehandedly started an aesthetic revolution in Dutch Cinema and with his aesthetically brazen and even pornographic yet penetratingly phantasmagorical and ominously oneiric 26-minute Bataille adaptation The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man (1994) demonstrating he played by no set of aesthetic rules, let alone cinematic ones. Loosely yet poetically adapted from stories by Bataille—Madame Edwarda (1941), which was published under the pseudonym ‘Pierre Angélique,’ and the posthumously released story Le Mort (1967) aka The Dead Man—Kaganof’s The Dead Man 2, unlike Peggy Ahwesh and Keith Sanborn’s rather formulaic adaptation The Deadman (1987) does not take a cold and calculating literal approach to its superlatively sordid source material, but instead opts for capturing its (anti)erotic essence, while also uniquely updating it for the post-industrial/pre-apocalyptic age of Occidental decay. Indeed, featuring feces-frosted fags vomiting on each other in debasing delight, a subterranean bar inhabited by seemingly decaying freaks where the only thing there to drink is urine straight out of the urethra of sub-homely ‘water sports’-inclined shebitches, skulls and skeletons lie on the beach as if the sole remnants of a nuclear holocaust, and an ostensibly ‘dead’ man in metaphysical pandemonium achieves temporary solace in a golden shower. Featuring a ‘musical’ score by Japanese noise musician Merzbow, who Kaganof would collaborate with on no less than three other films (la séquence des barres parallèles, Signal to Noise, and Beyond Ultra Violence: Uneasy Listening by Merzbow), The Dead Man II is an aesthetically aberrant celluloid necrology for a long senile rotting corpse of civilization in ruins where death-wishing scatological raunchiness has replaced love-based reproduction, revitalizing water has been replaced with toxic human waste, immaculate natural beauty has been eclipsed by defiling ugliness, and love has been ravaged by hate. 

 Beginning with a grotesque scat-covered sodomite taking the sweaty testicles of another grotesque scat-covered sodomite into his mouth as if he had mistaken the beans for the beef, The Dead Man II immediately assaults the viewer with a fiercely foul form of idiosyncratic aesthetic terrorism upon the viewer’s mind that no amount of hard narcotics nor brain damage will ever erase, even though the two fucked fellows begin to joke after the entire scene is over with, as if they themselves are fully aware of their decided depravity and want to shrug it off with a simple laugh. Of course, the two discernibly deviant dick-stabbers, who look like they're squatting in Jeffrey Dahmer’s damp dungeon basement in hell, do not stop there as one demands the other to, “give me your fucking puke” and indeed he does with the sort of enthusiastic gusto one would example from a soccer hooligan (and judging by the physiques of these two deranged dudes, I would not be surprised if they were soccer hooligans). While the one fine fellow regurgitates, his fellow fecal felon comrade masturbates to the point of ejaculation, thereupon leaving a putrid puddle of vomit, semen, and shit on the already sickeningly soiled floor of the dark abyss-like room. From there, the viewer witnesses buildings in flames with real children being burned up in actual stock footage from the so-called ‘Waco Siege’ (aka Waco Massacre) of 1993 when the ATF/FBI raided a compound owned by the Branch Davidians in a standoff that lasted for 51 days and that ended in the deaths of 76 men, women, and children, including would-be-messiah David Koresh, and that would ultimately inspire the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing that took place exactly two years later.  Enter the ‘Dead Man’ (played by Dutch veteran actor Jaap Hoogstra, who starred in everything from Paul Verhoeven’s Keetje Tippel (1975) to feminist pseudo-erotic-thriller swill like Marleen Gorris’ Gebroken spiegels (1984) aka Broken Mirrors). As to whether or not the ‘Dead Man’ is literally dead or not is irrelevant as his life has been clearly exhausted of all potential and his dreams have been replaced with a nightmare, which his rather rotund yet pale and corpse-like body completely complements. Aside from a little lady who he gets to practice his affinity for urophilia with and become a human urinal for at the conclusion of The Dead Man 2, the dead man does not communicate with nor actively acknowledge any of the people who he comes into contact with, as if he is a ghost who is in denial that anyone can see him.

 From the shadows of a seemingly bottomless pit of nothingness upon nothingness, the Dead Man slowly enters a bar that seems like a cross between the most semen-stained of Weimar cabarets and the favorite dive of the proto-deathrock figures of Dutch Renaissance man Frans Zwartjes’ films. Upon taking a seat in the virtual saloon from virtual post-apocalyptic Sodom, the Dead Man is approached by an old butch blonde bitch named Madame Edwarda—the eponymous prostitute character of Bataille’s 1941 story of the same name whose vagina is described as a “loathsome squid,” among countless other unsavory things—who flashes her absolutely odious genitals in the old geezer’s face and demonically declares, “I am God,” but she receives no response from her deranged declaration. From there, the building in flames once again appears and then the film cuts back to the netherworld bar, where all the patrons begin to stare at the Dead Man as if they expect something from him, but instead of the old fellow communicating with these awfully impolite freaks, a young yet rather physically unappealing woman begins to urinate off a table as if beer was on tap from her bald beaver. The next scene, which is so overexposed that one can barely make out what is going on, the viewer witnesses two lovers (one of whom is presumably the Dead Man when he was young) kissing on the beach, but the happy romantic moment is short lived as skulls and bones are soon revealed lying on the beach. Whether a nuclear apocalypse of sorts incinerated these lovers remains to be seen, but with the next scene being comprised of grungy green post-industrial factories, it certainly seems like Israel has finally let loose their Golem on the world. From there, the Dead Man sits in the backseat of a car going through a car wash as two lecherous lovers make violent love in the front seats. Back at the decadent bar, a sort of lounge act trio of women dressed up like the Goddess Kali—the Hindi mother goddess of Time, Change, and Destruction—give a performance while two old lovers do a dance of death. After the dance, the Dead Man, who seems to be in a most worried and melancholy state, cries out the name ‘Marie’ and an image of a young woman flashes quickly on the screen that the viewer assumes is a great love from the elderly walking corpse’s young days. In the end, the Dead Man meekly yet rapturously drinks what seems to be gallons of urine that is being pissed on his face by a woman standing over him, as if he is drinking from the fountain of youth. 

 Due to my somewhat marginal interest in Georges Bataille, I have seen virtually any film related to the novelist's work and The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man is the only one that manages to stand on its own without seeming like it is riding on the laurels of the source writer’s fame as an ‘artistically merited pornographer.’ Indeed, Belgian auteur Patrick Longchamps' Simona (1974)—a work based on Bataille’s Histoire de l'oeil (1928) aka Story of the Eye—is quite beautiful in many ways and Laura Antonelli’s performance does not hurt, but it is best to watch the film without the source material in mind because otherwise it seems like a shallow literary adaptation at best. As I mentioned before, Peggy Ahwesh and Keith Sanborn’s The Deadman is an abject pseudo-avant-garde joke that seeks to be provocative but wallows in banality and Andrew Repasky McElhinney’s Story of the Eye (2004) is even worse as a putrid piece of pseudo-punk porn poser trash that is not even worthy of Bataille’s postmortem feces. Additionally, Ma mere (2004) aka My Mother starring Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel and co-produced by Bernard-Henri Lévy (!) is the typical shallow French ‘erotic arthouse’ con. With its misleading title (of course, Kaganof never directed a The Dead Man 1) that inspires images of C-grade slasher schlock in the viewer’s mind, The Dead Man 2 is a work that downplays its seriousness and aesthetic prowess if anything and had Bataille seen the film himself he would have probably been flattered that he inspired such unhinged, if not hermetic, celluloid scatology. If The Dead Man 2 is offensive in any way, it is not due to its unsimulated scenes of vile sods covered in shit stroking their sausages in vomit, nor haggard looking whores pissing in men’s mouths, but rather due to the elegance which Kaganof brought in terms of directing these scenes, thus making the auteur a sort of cinematic alchemist of sorts who turns literal and figurative shit into celluloid gold. Regarding The Dead Man 2, auteur Kaganof once stated, “I like to aim for the stomach. If I can't feel a film, feel it very viscerally, then I don't really believe it. Perhaps that has something to do with coming from South Africa, which is a very visceral place. [...] I love the idea of managing to shift a viewer's state of consciousness by creating an out-of-film experience within film. I don't know if it always succeeds but that is definitely what I'm after.” Indeed, I would go so far as stating that the perverse poetry of The Dead Man 2 is more innate and organic than that of the source material and, in that sense, I think the film is closer to Teutonic expressionist poet Gottfried Benn—a medical doctor by profession who dealt firsthand with the venereal diseases, death, and decay he wrote about—than Monsieur Bataille. 

-Ty E

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