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It feels sort of weird to actually acknowledge, but disturbing art, literature, film and music has always fascinated me. I loved Marilyn Manson as a middle schooler, not for his noise-goth-punk-rock albums, but for his disturbing persona, which manifest itself through music videos featuring medieval face contortion devices and corseted mad-doctor costumes. Throw in some creepy wooden dolls and some dingy medical paraphernalia and I was glued to MTV, happily scaring myself (aren’t we all masochists?) each day after school. Interestingly, Manson is also a rather gifted painter whose watercolors have a serene, but frightening beauty that is comparable to the works of Marlene Dumas. Both use watercolor (though Dumas, not exclusively) as a way to suggest an image instead of explicitly define it, giving it a ghostly quality. Both also utilize this generally soft, palatable medium to portray harshness, strangeness and at times, un-savoriness (the below painting by Dumas, however, like much of her work, is oil on canvas and was featured in MoMA mid-career survey “Measuring Your Grave” on view last year).

Marilyn Manson via MTV.com

"Hand of Glory" by Marilyn Manson; image: Marilyn Manson via MTV.com

MoMA via nytimes.com

"The Painter" by Marlene Dumas; image: MoMA via nytimes.com

Disturbing imagery isn’t reserved for modern-day artwork. A while back I attended an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s.” I enjoyed it so much, I came back a second time. And then a third. The German Expressionist works, by artists like Otto Dix and George Grosz, were raw in their depiction of the seediness and decadence of post-WWI Germany: saggy prostitutes, transvestites, disfigured veterans, a man with an upside down ribcage. People were painted to reveal their most grotesque, self-conscious selves. But the colors were vibrant, and the mood striving–one of a people desperate to enjoy life again. Some of the works were are almost a caricature of this mood; the works’ combined magnetism made this one of the best exhibitions I’d ever seen.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s"; image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Film, too, moves me similarly. After I finished watching “Lex Yeux Sans Visage” (Eyes Without a Face), A French horror film from 1960, I was confused; I knew I loved it, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint a reason why. The film was aptly frightening: the slow sequences built up the terror expertly. But it was also strangely heart-wrenching. The plot centered around a father and daughter; the father had caused a car accident that left his daughter disfigured–only eyes where her face used to be. Wrought with guilt, he seeks out similar-looking girls in a desperate, psychotic effort to find one whose face he can transplant onto his daughter’s (he is a surgeon by profession.) The efforts fail, as is expected, and the daughter, who wears a mask to hide her disfigurement, floats around the sets of this film in long white dresses with pirate collars (which I had read somewhere were designed by Givenchy). She is already gone, already a ghost, as the visual allusions seem to suggest. Her loneliness is at once wistful and resigned and the more her father harms others to better her, the deeper she slips into a desperate state. French films are known for this kind of all-sided hopelessness, of course. The film is beautiful, though, in the way a lot of disturbing, otherworldly art seems to be. Its pacing and cinematography are almost poetic and it escapes the horror genre to stand almost peerlessly as a movie that delves into a secret, subverted sector of the human psyche–a place where empathy, disgust and despair can exist simultaneously.

associnetic.free.fr

Les Yeux Sans Visage movie poster; image: associnetic.free.fr

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