Monday, 4 April 2016

What has he got that it makes him all hot? Text by Mihaela Varzari

What has he got that it makes him all hot? ? ?

Written by Mihaela Varzari

It was the autumn of 1989, I was 11 and found myself stuck in a bedroom with some older high school kids who were watching the film 9 ½ Weeks. Just to set the record straight, before December 1989 in Romania you’d have to kill someone to watch a film outside the TV schedule, as hardly anyone had video players and films were not allowed to circulate. Years of confusing cultural signals followed - a combination of overly Romanian national pride provided through folk and the handful of Romanian intellectuals, who had active roles in the West - highlighted by shops selling made in Turkey products, where occasionally sexy films would run on a VCR player in a corner. Everything was permitted, we were free to feel sexy and encouraged to only think of the future or the past, with the period between the two world wars promoted as the pinnacle of cultural development. Full on, ongoing processes of self-colonialisation and self-imposed amnesia have started. By killing the Father we happily took on board another model which at the time was dominant in the West, namely the enigmatic male figure, the bursary speculator, the rich and busy, attractive and ruthless penetrator.

   I saw the Wild Orchid later in the 90’s and 9½ weeks again and again. The magnetism emanated by the character played by Mickey Rourke combined with his personal vulnerability, smartly cultivated in both leading roles, ensured him a status of cultural symbol for the ’89 generation, at least in Romania, even though I cannot support my hypothesis empirically, as this is my very personal observation. This is not to say that he is not part of a wider gallery of cinema icons but on this occasion I allow myself to single Mickey Rourke out as an exception and treat him accordingly. He is as fascinating on, as well as off camera. The film released later in 1989, titled Johnny Handsome, echoes aspects of Rourke’s personal autobiography. Mickey Rourke plays the role of the main protagonist, called Johnny Handsome, a disfigured burglar, who through out the film, due to plastic surgery has his appearance transformed into the well known, handsome Mickey Rourke. There is a strange analogy here, as in the mid 90’s, when he was young and very attractive, a sex symbol in his own right, he disappeared from the film industry for 15 years only to appear again as a deformed version of himself, this time because of the extensive reconstruction surgery on his face as a result of his boxing career. As in the only Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890 where the painted portrait is getting old while Dorian Gray stays young, the same is happening to the actual Mickey Rourke, who manages to stay young in my memory because his current presence seems so alien to me. It may well be that the motif of Dorian Gray is consciously used in the film scrip for 9 1/2 Weeks, by employing the same surname, John Gray being the film protagonist. Both characters embody qualities of magnified beauty and vanity and intensified power given by the glorification of money.

   With the counter revolution of the 80’s and the rise of neoliberalism, the marketing of the personal computer, and the dismantling of systems of social protections, the assault on personal style assumed a new ferocity. Time itself became monetized, and the individual redefined as a full time economic agent. Freed from the communist dictatorship, we found ourselves enslaved once again by the economic one, more resilient and difficult to fight. It came under the attractive figure of the adrenaline driven money maker, possessor of ‘the capitalist’s smirk’, as it was famously described by Marx, who appeared relaxed, calm, ambivalent to any other order but that imposed by money. I am referring to the en-masse seduction through the rise of the loner, the soulless investor, driven by speculative instincts. It reminds me of the way Freud described narcissism, by way of comparing it to the unique cellular organism amoeba whose self-sufficient status is combined with a constant try to interact with the exterior, exemplified through extending its protrusions. The characters played by Mickey Rourke in both films act as a symptom for repression, which being previously structured patriarchically, along the lines of Oedipal Complex, it is organized today around the complex of narcissism. This shift in repression is analogous to marking of the transition from a collective based society to one shaped around individual goals of competitiveness, personal security and comfort at the expense of others.

   The inclusion of the screening of these two films is aimed at complicating the art project 1:1, which may be suffering from the illness of the concept or the thematic approach. It analyzes different ways of artistic representation during after EU integration, which determined a restructuring of global relations. Strange isn’t that the Hollywood films we, in Romania saw before and after 89, dubbed by Irina Nistor[1], represented a way of resistance. Now we loot at them under different auspices, and we came to realize the way they impacted a generation modeled according to the figure of the financial speculator, adding thus a new layer to the collective consciousness.

2008, the year of the financial crisis, should mark even more the unrevealing of such myths. We hear so much talk about the incredible profits made by banks while the existing relations of power and control remain effectively the same, structured according to a different dictatorship, this time an economical one.  

[1] Irina Nistor is a voice-over artist, who dubbed American films illegally distributed in VCR in Romania before and after 89. It could be said that her voice was the second most known after Ceausescu’s.

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