Kinokaze - Report from the Underground
by Paddy's Pain
(Originally appeared in Kinokaze #1, 1994.)
Paddy's Pain: Richard, besides your Super-8mm films you've directed three films so far, Voice of the Moon, a documentary about Afganistan in 1988, Hardware, your first feature in 1990 and Dust Devil released in 1992. Although essentially different types of films, to what extent would you say that these are really westerns in disguise?
Richard Stanley: That could arguably be true, but I tend to think it's more of a genre squelching experience and that these are elements of a whole differant Armada of genres going on in them. I think Voice of the Moon is probably more western than any of them. Voice of the Moon is stuck in a world of mud houses and people on horses wearing poncho type apparel, and with its slide guitar soundtrack as well, it's learning that way... and all the dark faced children running out to meet the men on horseback and artillery fire going on over the hills. It reminds me of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly a lot...
PP: But Both the 'Nomad' Character in Hardware and 'Hitch' in Dust Devil seem to have walked straight out of a spaghetti western!
RS: I've been obssessed with 'The Man With No Name' for quite a while. I think he's been an extraordinarily complex figure and pretty interested in Dario Argento's work. And I've rationalised a lot of my obsession with this figure as being related to a single shot out of Once Upon A Time In The West, which is the recurring dream image shot that they cut into the film everytime somebody asks the Charles Bronson character his name - he always says back the names of the dead people - and they cut to this very odd shot, which is this completely overexposed image swimming in the middle of the frame, which you can't quite see because it's pulling into focus. It takes the whole film for that image to finally pull into focus, which is this grinning man walking out of the desert holding a harmonica in one hand which he extends towards the camera as if offering it to us. That one recurring dream image, I think, is also probably one of Dario's contributions to Once Upon A Time In The West [both Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci worked on the script and storyboard of the film with Sergio Leone].
PP: Dario has used a similar device in his own.
RS: Exactly, like the girl in the red shoes in Tenebre and the strange beach sequence that builds up with the execution in the Muslim country in Four Flys on Grey Velvet... where you get a couple of frames the first time around and you think what the hell was that and ten minutes later you get another few frames and by the time you finally get the whole sequence which is eventually rationalised to be part of the killers motive in Dario's work.
PP: What do you think that strange sequence from Once Upon A Time In The West means though?
RS: I think it hits on the head some of the biggest issues available to mankind in a crazy way because I've rationalised since then that when a child is born, its eyes take a long time to focus....a bit like a chameleon's eyes when it comes out of the dark womb space or when you first walk out of a darkened cinema. Being born into the world, the first thing you see is this dazzling overexposed white light which is totally unfocused, and which is probably one's first memory after birth... and somehow that combination of the figure focusing in and out of the white space, coupled with the repeated question "Who Are You?" all the way through the film hits the nail on the head for me...
PP: Also Traditionally, God has been represented as a figure silouetted against a blinding flash of white light...
RS: No-one is sure who the hell 'The Man With No Name' is, but he's definitely a spiritual figure. Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter tries to intimate he's the Devil and paints the town red and tries to change its name to 'Hell'. In Pale Rider he tries to intimate that he's God instead, and in the begining of El Topo, [Alejandro] Jodorowsky's Chilean Western, 'The Man With No Name' strides out of the desert, castrates the bad guy, and when asked who he is, he replies "I am God!". 'The Man With No Name' I think is a really important figure in twentieth century pop mythology and I don't think people realise just how much symbolic weight probably rests on his shoulders and to what extent the character locks into most of the really big questions about who I am and where was I before I was born and is there a God and all that kind of material. In addition to that I think that "The Man With No Name's" echoes extend very easily into things like The Hitcher, Dust Devil, Riders Of The Storm and a lot of pop music songs by Neil Young and America and on into the Walking Man in the Stephen King novel The Stand. He's almost well defined enough to be installed in an Aurora Monster Model Kit or have a special Tarot card all to himself.
PP: Do you believe in magic?
RS: Yes and one of the reasons I believe in magic, which probably makes me a bit more flakey is because of the whacky world of comparitive mythology in that there are just too many parallels between western, Asian and African magic to be easily explicable, no-one has been really consulting one another but almost everyone agrees on basic things. Vampires never reflect in mirrors or ever show up in photographs etc, often if you see the guy coming towards you he's not really there at all, he's actually behind you 'cos a lot of them have a habit of sending out their images separate from where they are themselves and that's the same whether you are in Malaya or Africa or Europe. This is something which comes across in parts of Dust Devil.
PP: This would be similar to ideas around the mass unconscious.
RS: I kind of like delving into the mass unconscious in some ways in that I figure if one is able to create something that touches enough people's dreams well then hopefully it will make sense to people even if it's cutting across a whole bunch of different cultural boundaries.
PP: Who Exactly, though, is 'The Man With No Name'?
RS: I couldn't tell you, all I could do is give you the names of the dead people (laughs). I think in my terms, he's my flipside. 'The Man With No Name' is one of the dark angels who concerns me in that he's always been my negative advisor. The first time I became aware of this was when I was a child of about 13 and I was at a Catholic Military Cadet School in South Africa. I learned very fast that the only way to get out of marching around in the hot sun being drilled and treated like an idiot was to learn how to shoot a gun and I got myself into the shooting team and the more I knew about rifles and shooting straight at a target the more time I could spend skiving off from drill practice... which at the time I construed as basically an example of how one has the ability and the willingness to kill and knowledge of the necessary technology, that one is thus somehow an elite and is superior to the rest of the kids who just get shouted at all the time... from then on I figured that somehow killing was the way forward and would elevate one up above the ranks. I think it was always a temptation when I was out in Afganistan and when I got drafted in South Africa, that the spectre loomed very large, I think it's something I've always fought against, I mean I would never want to be like that myself. Often the guy pops up on my shoulder giving me crap advice, when things go wrong one tends to think well I could kill him... and that would sort it out!
PP: In Christianity it's called 'The Mark Of Kane'...
RS: Yes, that's true but the thing that I'm exploring in Dust Devil and Hardware are probably explained better in Gnostic terms than Christian terms when Hitch in Dust Devil tries to explain his motives, it is basically a dualist heresy in that in Gnostic terms the Christian God is the wrong God, the usurper God, in Gnostic terms there is no good or Evil only spirit and matter, but matter is inherently evil and we have to constantly strive towards the spirit and the Christian God, who created the world in seven days, is actually evil for doing that, for trapping ourspirits into matter. I mean the whole reason the Christians and the Heretics fought so badly is because both sides believed the other worshipped the Devil and both sides were diametrically opposed.
Although the real Cathars and Gnostics in history were medieval hippies, people who were into pacifism and free love. In actual terms their philosophy being one of anti-matter is rather disturbing in that it could nominally provide sufficient motive for say the serial killer (Hitch) in Dust Devil who not only believes he is liberating people whom he kills by allowing them to escape from their bodies but he himself is looking for an escape into another plane to try to get back through the mirror, his death is actually some sort of final extension of that metamorphosis a way of finally escaping his body...
Another thing about Gnostics that I found quite interesting was that they didn't believe a Messiah could happen in a physical form because that would be a contradiction in terms therefore a Gnostic Messiah would have to come in terms of pure energy and this would liberate us from the sin of matter which would be totally analagous to the A bomb or some sort of nuclear holocaust. The conversion of all matter back into energy back into spirit which would be the Gnostic idea of true salvation.
PP: In what way does your vision of cinema link in with this heresy?
RS: I guess one could see the whole of the mass media as it stands today as some sort of extension of Gnostic faith (laughs) in that essentially the roots of cinema itself is all about teaching the 'flicker'. It does seem very likely that the earliest recorded moving image can be put down to Gnostic flickbooks, and it seems that the earliest flickbooks are linked with the Manichaean heresy and that the Manichaeans had flickbooks which looked rather like what a child might draw in the corner of a copybook depicting a struggling white and black man fighting each other which you flick and create the illusion of two struggling figures. Which means that they understood the basic principles of fusion frequency and the retention of an image, that 30 images in a second gives the illusion of motion.
The reason the Gnostics had the flick books in the first place was because they wanted to demonstrate that all of reality as we perceive it, only happens as a side effect of a war between light and dark, between matter and spirit. The flick book descends into the Zoetrope, and Rogets pamphlet on Fusion frequency to the Lumiere Brothers and into the projector. Maybe cinema itself is acting as some kind of hand maiden to the Apocalypse Culture thrives off cinema as well. Death Metal and Apocalypse Culture seem to be a part of siren song towards self- destruction which I think cinema does sell to people. Cinema always works best when dealing with nihilism and images that have got to do with the faith of anti-matter... Bomb Worship... Exploding Cinema!