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Screening Now: “The Deadman”

Peggy Ahwesh may be one of the very few artists associated with the label feminism that one can decipher ideas within her works besides those set to promote the label. In fact, no part of my interpretation of “The Deadman” coalesced into what I would later read as her directorial intentions for the work, and that is indeed a sign of good filmmaking. One could even observe the better side of her catalog — like the short film you’re about to watch — to be of same caliber as that of Maya Deren, but with less surrealist prepossessions and more cohesive plot progression. That said, with “The Deadman,” she and Keith Sanborn — who provided an English translation for the film before the work was ever published in English — made a remarkable attempt, adapting the Bataille novelette of the same name (“Le Mort”).

Having not been familiar with any of Bataille’s posthumous works, the soundest interrelated footnote I can give is that there are several traces of inspiration from “Wuthering Heights,” the work he detailedly gives account of its peculiarities in “Literature And Evil;” notably the ghost Marie sees in the character of the Count, plus, a recurring motif of a higher power, where in “The Deadman” it happens to be the Count, and in “Story Of The Eye;” Sir Edmund. And given the thorough quotes embedded in Ahwesh’s adaptation — which are even more interestingly introduced as intertitles stylized in the same tone as the 1989 English edition of the book — I doubt after watching the film there would remain any particular reason to revisit the original text, signally since there are others to be read.

The work on its own is one of the most powerful of American cinema, and certainly touches on 80’s no wave scene of filmmaking and cinema of transgression as much as it does; the so-called new French extremity, though its place on the timetable locates it somewhere in a chronological limbo, as it precedes the latter and postdates the former. Also, it is crucial to remember the French cinema itself didn’t cover Bataille until two decades later. And that is precisely why I’ve been always going to bat for the American underground film scene, i.e. it is capable.

Written by Ari Wilson


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