Saturday, 1 December 2012
Mr Sardonicus + Laughter
Ripe for psychoanalytic musings. I almost want to say the masked speaker is an inversion of the possessed victim. An eerie voice from an unseen - in both instances, one (Regan) having animation but an incongruous unpresent/present voice, the other a true voice, a locatable source, but no facial animation, no locus of emittance.... but this is too simple. Well Sardonic scene at the end too, scope Vladimir Propp's comments of ritual laughter accompanying death and killing, all involving groups. These he characterized as sardonic laughter.
"Among the very ancient people of Sardinia, who were called Sardi or Sardoni, it was customary to kill old people. While killing their old people, the Sardi laughed loudly. This is the origin of notorious sardonic laughter (Eugen Fehrle, 1930), now meaning cruel, malicious laughter. In light of our findings things begin to look different. Laughter accompanies the passage from death to life; it creates life and accompanies birth. Consequently, laughter accompanying killing transforms death into a new birth, nullifies murder as such, and is an act of piety that transforms death into a new life."
Sophie K Scott and her team have done some interesting research into laughter. Is sardonic laughter (in the ancient Sardinian context) a method of exploiting the first mode of rhythmical exchange in order to mollify a victim? A vocal weapon that releases a sickly serotonin against the listeners/victims will? On the other hand, when one realises a laughter is mocking, it is not communal but dangerous, it is worse than words - cue Regan:
And of course who can forget the classic Vincent Price cackle at the end of Michael Jackson's Thriller (just google vincent price laugh, or MJ's Thiller). A laugh deployed as sinister affect, the most blood curdling effect of a vocalised revelation - the horror laugh is often wheeled out at points of transformation/revelation/protagonist realisation - in a sense the laugh can be thought of as a marker of change. The point at which an evil villain chooses to finally break the tension and reveal their true intentions to the audience and the victims - and their victims doom. The true intention is not granted utter explicitness, not fully inscribed within language (utter explicitness kills horror - we all know that, the villain will never turn around and say "OK, so this is our dungeon we'll be killing you within 25 minutes but a few housekeeping points first") - but is given it's most breathy, vital and crucially ambiguous marker. An utter vocalisation of intent, intention is revealed most sonorously, most infectiously BUT retains an ambiguity. The evil cackle is introduced at the point of the baddie winning, showing his or her true intentions, the point at which secrecy can be jettisoned - let is all out devil, relax, you have your prey now:
"The incident recorded by Ionov shows that hunters laugh after capturing an animal. Consequently, laughter is not a means for capturing it. However, the hunter's interests are naturally concentrated on the capture. We may suppose that the hunters laughed to resurrect the dead animal to a new life and to capture it a second time; that is, they were laughing "for the birth" of the animal, just as the Yakuts laughed "for the birth" of a child. That hunters tried to resurrect a slain animal by various means (in particular by burying its bones) for a second hunt is well known in ethnography (Propp 1934). Laughter is one of the means for the creation and recreation of life." (Propp, 135)
The horror laugh, is a sinisterly knowing affect, it is a neon sign to say 'the chase is over, you'll never escape, my plans are complete - but the torment won't stop - even after I've hunted you I'll hunt you again' - For the victim their enemy's cackle can be heard to say that the horror of the pursuit is finished, and that now there is only the horror of the capture, a grimly static horror without the momentum of hope or the prospect of freedom.
Edit - and how could I forget, another film full of masks and sardonic laughter: