So near and yet so far
I reached a significant milestone in my PhD thesis today: the completion of the initial draft of my first actual analysis chapter. Prior to that, I’d written an Introduction (Chapter 1) and more drafts of the Literature Review (Chapter 2) than I care to remember. As a result, actually sitting down and writing about the films themselves came as something of a relief after nearly a year and a half of wading through the swamps of purely theoretical thinking.
This piece, which will be either Chapter 3 or Chapter 4 in the finished thesis (depending on where the chapter I’m going to work on next ends up fitting in), examines the male protagonists of gialli like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Short Night of the Glass Dolls - apparently “liberated” middle-class artists indulging in bohemian lifestyles in major European cities - and the issues of power and powerlessness that emerge from the films. Crucial to this chapter is my overriding theory that the characters in these gialli, which I have dubbed ‘masculine nightmare’ films, are embroiled in an ongoing power struggle, whether the aggressor is a serial killer, a duplicitous wife or society itself. From my conclusion to the chapter (warning: spoilers below):
Central to these portrayals of the roving male protagonist as a perpetual victim of suppression is an underlying fear of the loss of liberty: regardless of the situations in which they find themselves, characters such as Sam Dalmas, Andrea Bild, George Dumurrier and Greg Moore ultimately find themselves destabilised, trapped and powerless. All too often, they find out that the world is not exactly what they thought it was, whether it turns out that the apparently helpless victim is in fact the aggressor (in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that a supposedly dead wife is in fact very much alive (in One on Top of the Other), or that “the average man” cannot in fact “survive and keep individualism alive” (in Short Night of the Glass Dolls). Ultimately, they are left trapped, isolated and unable to trust even their own eyes; in short, they are denied agency.
The fact that these ‘masculine nightmare’ gialli materialised during a period of significant social reform and considerable advancement for, among others, the women’s liberation movements of Italy, Europe and the world at large seems, to point to a fear of the loss of power and control afforded to men in conventional patriarchal society that extends far beyond the conventional ‘boogie (wo)man’ stories portrayed in these films. Put simply, while a giallo such as Short Night of the Glass Dolls centres on the prevalent worst nightmare of being buried alive, it is actually addressing a far broader fear of a loss of power, control and authority in general…
If all that didn’t sound too esoteric for your tastes, and you’re interested in taking a look let me know (ideally, by emailing me at whiggles[at]ntlworld[dot]com) and I can send you a copy.
Foucault, by the way, turned out to be very useful in conceptualising this notion of “power”. Or rather, Sarah Mills’ explanation of what Foucault was actually on about. If you’re struggling to make head or tail of the man’s writing, I heartily recommend her book, part of the Routledge “Critical Thinkers” series.