May 9, 2015

The Mafu Cage

In past centuries during the good old European colonial days, it was no uncommon for degenerate European artists, especially those of the deracinated and sexually introverted sort, to seek exile in exotic foreign lands. Indeed, after giving upon poetry for good before even turning 21, Symbolist poet and scandalous libertine prick Arthur Rimbaud lived everywhere from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) to Harar, Ethiopia (in fact, he was apparently the third European to have ever set foot in the city) before having to return to his native France upon abruptly acquiring bone cancer, having his leg amputated, and soon dying on November 10, 1981 at the premature age of 37. Additionally, frog commie cocksucker André Gide’s writings were oftentimes inspired by his dubious travels and sexual escapades in places ranging from Arab Algiers to the decidedly dark Congo. Of course, alpha-Beat William S. Burroughs’ writings were inspired by similar experiences as a perennial wanderer who lusted after the young boys he met while living abroad in third world hellholes like the South African Amazon and Morocco.  Naturally, one of the reasons certain artists and left-wingers in general support so-called multiculturalism is that it allows them the opportunity to easily fulfill their fetishes for melanin-privileged people without even having to leave their homelands.  In rather bizarre and inexplicable ‘mainstream arthouse’ horror-melodrama hybrid The Mafu Cage (1978) aka Don't Ring the Doorbell aka Deviation aka The Cage aka My Sister, My Love directed by Karen Arthur (The Jacksons: An American Dream, True Women) is intriguing in that takes the stereotype of the degenerate white xenophile and takes it to ungodly extremes in a somewhat anomalous and surely aberrant film that belongs to the unofficial psychotic woman subgenre. Adapted from the play Toi et les nuages aka You and Your Clouds by fairly unknown French playwright Éric Wesphal, Arthur’s curious cult enigma depicts a crazed and pathologically ‘Afrocentric’ chick whose glaring lack of sanity seems to be, at least partially, the result of the fact that she grew up running around with negro tribesmen because her father was some sort of kooky cultural anthropologist who had an undying fetish for living among savages.   Indeed, in Arthur's fairly forgotten film, racial schizophrenia and general psychopathy are closely intertwined in a work about a rich white girl who grew up in various Africa jungles that will stop at nothing to pretend that she is still living in said African jungles.

 Starring exceedingly eccentric squeaky-voiced blonde Jewess Carol Kane (Hester Street, Annie Hall) in what is unequivocally the most patently perverse and perturbing performance of her eclectically quirky career as a decided deranged dame of the quasi-autistic/psychotic sort whose less than conventional upbringing living among Pygmies and other African negro tribesmen has inspired her to live in a highly hermetic fantasy realm of her own making involving African tribal masks and artifacts, real living and breathing orangutans that she murders when she gets tired of them, and one-person avant-garde blackface performance art peformances, among other things, The Mafu Cage is a strikingly strange and ultimately tragic tale of quasi-incestuous sisterly co-dependence about a crazed cunt and the unwavering negligence of her anally retentive enabler sister-cum-caretaker. The second of only three features directed by Ms. Arthur following her rarely-seen psycho-bitch arthouse debut Legacy (1975) and preceding the dreamlike thriller Lady Beware (1987) starring Diane Lane, the film demonstrate that the auteuress actually has a distinct vision that was almost surely misspent in the bottomless pit known as the television world where she would direct almost fifty different TV movies and TV series during her 40+ year career. Like Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) meets Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) meets the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens (1975) as seemingly directed by an Afrocentric feminist dyke with a very personal disdain for the white bourgeoisie, The Mafu Cage—a work that features the intriguing aesthetic theme of ‘Africa vs. The Victoria era’—is a film that some will love and most will probably hate but surely something that no one will ever forget.  After all, Ms. Kane was probably the first Hebrew to sport blackface since the days of Al Jolson when Israelites became sort of proto-wiggers by playing and promoting degenerate jazz.

 Before he kicked the bucket, an eccentric African primatologist/anthropologist told his eldest daughter Ellen (Lee Grant of Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night (1967) and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)) regarding her younger sister, “Give Cissy freedom to create her own familiar environment […] for civilized institutions have no understanding of the soul of a wild thing.” Apparently, the anthropologist was one of those liberal quacks that did not know how to discipline his kids so he lied to himself and everyone else by regularly proclaiming that, “All brilliant children are eccentric,” as an excuse to pretend that his clearly mentally damaged daughter was fine and did not need any help, even though she tends to randomly get murderously violent. Indeed, little Cissy (Carol Kane) is a conspicuously crazed cunt of the absurdly Afrocentric sort who is watched over by her sister in a large old mansion filled with primitive negro artifacts that were left to them by their dear daddy. Cissy is totally obsessed with owning and playing with monkeys that she lovingly calls “Mafu,” but she always ends up killing these poor primates during her various mental breaks. While Cissy is rather bestially visceral and artistically-inclined as a gal that goes somewhat grotesque sketches of monkeys and unclad women, her sister Ellen is the complete opposite as a fiercely frigid and ultra logical astrologist with next to nil visible emotions aside from the occasional melancholy stare. At the beginning of the film, Ellen comes home from work and finds her sister Cissy gardening with no clothes on aside from a goofy hat, so she tells her little sis to get dressed, stating, “I mean decently covered, like the young lady mother and I tried to raise you to be. I think sometimes you’d rather be back in Africa running naked with your nasty little playmates,” to which her sassy sibling replies, “They were not nasty. They were the best friends I ever had…Besides you and daddy, of course.” One might assume Cissy is mentally disturbed as a result of running around naked with negroes as a child, but her particularly penetrating psychosis is clearly much deeper than that and seems to be something she was born with.  In fact, Cissy's hardcore negrophilia seems to be the only thing keeping her from going completely insane, as she cannot stand the real world and real people and has created pseudo-jungle in her living room as a safe space where she can act like a moron in peace and comfort.

 A perennial woman-child who has an extravagant shrine to her deceased daddy that she regularly prays to and who says things like, “I hope I do die. I hope I do…then I could talk to daddy again. I try and talk to him now…It’s very difficult. I don’t know how to talk to people – living or dead,” Cissy is indubitably a girl that lives in a fantasy world of her own making. Aside from her eccentric Electra complex and tendency to wear only colorful and flamboyant African clothes that make her seem like a culturally schizophrenic hippie jackass, Cissy also has an irrational fear of men and has maintained what seems like a lifelong lesbian relationship with her sister Ellen, who would like to have a male lover and start a family but has already promised to dedicate her life to taking care of her less than sane sibling. When Cissy murders her latest ‘Mafu’ (aka monkey) during a fit of rage and then bathes in it's blood, she absurdly immediately begs her sister to get her a new pet primate by stating childish things like, “My daddy understands. I know my daddy understands that he wants me to have a new Mafu,” but Ellen will not budge as reflected in her remark “not impressed by childish blackmail,” so the cracked chick decides to use suicidal emotional blackmail as a rather desperate last ditch effort to get what she wants. Indeed, Cissy threatens to kill herself and then slits her wrist to coerce her sister into getting a new Mafu, so Ellen gives in and calls her father’s friend ‘Zom’ (Will Greer of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966) and the popular TV show The Waltons (1971–1981)) to get a new monkey. Although Zom is well aware that Cissy has murdered all the previous Mafus, he reluctantly agrees to “loan” an orangutan to the wicked wild child. Zom also give Cissy an scarecrow that was used by Pygmies to scare away idol-worshiping Bantu tribesmen from destroying what the old man describes as the, “oldest living example of primitive man on earth.” Of course, Zom makes a major mistake by lending the orangutan to Cissy. 

 Aside from being an enabler who allows her mentally sick sister to literally get away with murder, Ellen also uses Cissy as an excuse as to why she has no boyfriend or personal life, as she seems to be afraid of such emotional things even though she desperately longs for male love and affection. Naturally, Cissy is jealous of Ellen's interest in men and accuses of her “wanting to get married and have children,” adding, “You think a woman who hasn’t had children isn’t a real woman.” Of course, as an innately sexually and emotionally immature little lady who literally goes crazy and suffers a major mental meltdown if a man simply taps her on the shoulder, Cissy seems ashamed of the fact that she will never be a real and full woman and rather resents the fact that her sister actually desires such things. Ellen’s coworker David (James Olson of The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Commando (1985)) is deeply in love with her and she more or less feels the same way about him, but she is too terribly afraid to act on her feelings because she is inexperienced and knows that her wack-job sister will be consumed with violent rage and jealousy if she starts a serious relationship with a man. It is more than implied throughout the film that Ellen has an incestuous lesbo relationship with Cissy, who states to herself while giving her an overtly erotic body massage, “I just love making you feel so good. Your skin feels so smooth…it’s just like velvet [...] It’s like I’m touching you and myself at the same time…like we’re the same person. Is that what love is? Not just sacrificing to make someone else happy but being that happiness, that person.” In another creepy pseudo-intimate ‘love’ scene, Cissy states to Ellen while lying naked with her in bed, “You used to be so beautiful. You still are sometimes when you’re naked with me. It’s been a longtime since anyone but me stroked your breasts…Made you gush.” When Cissy ends up brutally murder the orangutan by beating it to death with it's own chains, Zom attempts to convince Ellen that she must get a personal life and have her sister institutionalized if her mental health does not get any better. Ultimately, Ellen decides to leave Cissy behind and go on a work trip while promising to David that she will finally proceed with their romance. Unfortunately for Ellen, David makes the unwittingly foolish mistake of deciding to go by his lover's home while she is away on business and Cissy ultimately decides to make the poor scientist her latest involuntary Mafu, thereupon have completely deleterious consequences. 

 When David enters Ellen and Cissy’s mansion, the only thing he can say is “Jesus Christ” upon seeing a large monkey cage, which is certainly the ‘centerpiece’ of the large home, and hundreds upon hundreds of ancient primitive African artifacts. Needless to say, David is quite delighted when Cissy tells him that Ellen has described him as “warm and wonderful” and that she sincerely wants to be with him. Ultimately, David makes the mistake of agreeing to get drunk on wine with Cissy and engaging in African tribal dances with her. During one of these goofy dances, David causes Cissy to suffer a mental breakdown merely by touching her in a completely harmless. After coercing David into allowing her to put shackles on him and complaining about how her last orangutan would get erections (she seems completely ignorant about heterosexual sex and the male gender), Cissy makes him her new Mafu, though it does not last long as the deranged dame has a hard time handling the verbal aggression of her latest monkey, who does not take too kindly to being locked up in a cage like an animal.  Indeed, after David dares to scream for help and attempts to attack his kidnapper when she tries to get him to drink some water, Cissy decides to sport blackface and pseudo-ritualistically murder the scientist by bludgeoning him to death with some sort of African club. After maliciously murdering David in a freakishly cold and detached fashion that totally exemplifies her complete and utter lack of empathy for other human beings, Cissy bathes in the man’s blood as if it gives her a great sense of solace that borders on a totally transcendental spiritual experience. When Ellen finally gets back from her seemingly fruitful trip, she is quite delighted to see that Cissy seems uncharacteristically mentally balanced and in good spirits, but when she eventually notices David’s car outside her home, she assumes the worst and completely loses it after her greatest fears are confirmed upon discovering a sketch that her sister drew of her boyfriend as a monkey. In a sort of role reversal of their sick ‘symbiotic relationship’ of incestuous co-dependence, Ellen becomes the ‘caged animal’ and is chained in the Mafu cage by her sister. With her sole male suitor dead and her sister reaching a place of no return in terms of totally malevolent mental derangement, Ellen decides to commit passive self-slaughter by refusing to eat and going on a suicidal hunger strike of sorts (which is notably and not coincidentally something that Cissy threatened to do at the beginning of the film). After Ellen finally croaks, Cissy creates a large sicko Sapphic mural in tribute to her dead sister inside in the Mafu cage where she ultimately locks herself inside so that she can reunite with her sister via death by starvation. 

 Admittedly, I decided to watch The Mafu Cage after reading about it in the book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012) where Canadian author Kier-La Janisse makes comparisons between her own lifelong female hysteria and neuroticism and that of characters in classic cult, horror, and exploitation films.  Though Arthur's film is certainly somewhat kitschy, it also dares to authentically depict the bizarre behavior of some of the less mentally stable members of the fairer sex. While ostensibly an exotic Sapphic horror-thriller featuring the striking novelty of both Afrocentric and Art Deco aesthetics, Karen Arthur’s film is really a sort of psycho-sexual crypto-arthouse chamber piece disguised as debauched celluloid trash that features a dichotomous depiction of the two complimentary extreme of female psychosis in the form of two extremely different but more or less equally unhinged sisters who suffer from a foreboding form of codependence that ultimately pushes both of them over the edge and into a personal pandemonium of no return that reaches its climax in self-obliteration. Undoubtedly The Mafu Cage also superficially follows in the tradition of the classic ‘Grande Dame Guignol’ exploitation subgenre, but what makes it notably different is that it stars two relatively young and up-and-coming beauties instead of washed-up old hags and was directed by an actual woman as opposed to old queens like Curtis Harrington (What's the Matter with Helen?, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?) or Silvio Narizzano (Fanatic aka Die! Die! My Darling!). Unquestionably, another interesting and unforgettable aspect of the film is it's strangely addictive harpsichord musical score by Roger Kellaway (Evilspeak, The Silent Scream), which somewhat resembles the one featured in the avant-garde counterculture short The Bed (1968) directed by James Broughton.  Indeed, in terms of it's various seemingly contradictory idiosyncratic aesthetic ingredients, you probably will not find a more bizarre and preternatural quasi-mainstream film of it's time than The Mafu Cage, which is certainly a work that was doomed to obscurity right from the get go but is surely deserving of the small cult following that it has acquired over the nearly four decades since it was originally released.

 While The Mafu Cage had the honor of being the opening film at the tenth anniversary of Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival where auteur Arthur got to hold hands simultaneously with Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, the film was naturally a box office flop that certainly did nothing to help the director’s career, hence why she would only direct one more feature film and spend the rest of her career as a relatively success ‘TV auteur’ that was responsible for made-for-TV agitprop like the venomous feminazi flick The Rape of Richard Beck (1985) and the putrid Zionist propaganda piece Evil in Clear River (1988). Indeed, while The Rape of Richard Beck depicts archetypical tough guy Richard Crenna as a pigheaded cop who believes rape victims “bring it upon themselves” and ultimately learns the error of his misogynistic ways after being raped himself, Evil in Clear River stars Randy Quaid in a role based on real-life ‘heretic’ James Keegstra about a respected high school teacher who becomes the first Canadian convicted of the bogus crime of ‘hate speech’ due to the less than Semitically correct things that he says about the Jews. It should be noted that Arthur really went to great extremes to get The Mafu Cage made, so it does not surprise me that she would eventually settle for the fairly safe and reliable world of television. Indeed, as she explained in the featurette Visions of Clouds that was featured as a special feature on the 2010 Scorpion Releasing DVD release of the film, Arthur not only visited mental institutions to find inspiration for the character and artwork of Cissy and traveled to Paris to meet with playwright Éric Wesphal so that she could secure the rights to his play, but she also plied screenwriter Don Chastain with sex and food, among other things, so that he would finish the screenplay for the film in a relatively timely fashion. Notably, according to Arthur herself, she was the first female film director to become a member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) since film noir auteur Ida Lupino (The Bigamist, The Hitch-Hiker), so it is kind of sad and pathetic that should had to dedicate most of career to directing insipid TV agitprop when The Mafu Cage clearly demonstrates that she had some real talent and was a rare filmmaker—be it male or female—that dared to take an uniquely unflattering look at female psychosis. Indeed, certainly no contemporary female filmmaker would dare to direct a work featuring a Sapphic psycho of the incestuous and psycho-autistic sort who has an uncontrollable compulsion towards killing men and monkeys.  Of course, regardless of time periods, it is absolutely amazing that a film like The Mafu Cage even exists, which is more than enough reason why it should be seen by any semi-serious cinephile and/or trash cinema junkie, not to mention the fact that it has the added bonus of making xenophilia seem like the product of a sort of psychosis that is suffered by people with serious identity issues.

-Ty E


Kaganof said...

Mafu Cage is one of the great films of the seventies. It's great that you have written about it and brought it back into circulation. Carol Kane deserved to win a hundred oscars for her role.

Soiled Sinema said...

Kaganof: Yeah, I just discovered the film and I'm still shocked that it even exists. Kane surely makes full use of her talents in "The Mafu Cage" whereas she seems to be doing a sort of self-parody in a lot of other films. Too bad director Karen Arthur decided to stay in the TV world. I tried to find her first feature "Legacy" but it seems to be impossible to find. Apparently it is also about psycho chicks and featured a lot of the same crew members as "The Mafu Cage."