Friday, March 20, 2009

Body Snatchers!

While the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers has multiple remakes and half-mutant cousins, we forget, perhaps, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1884 “The Body Snatcher” as well as a more significant and overlooked precursor . . . Paterson. Now hear me out.
Some of the data I’ve strewn along the blog-lines of time go unnarrated either because they sing for themselves, or there’s nothing yet to say. The last piece of data, a 1960 announcement for a reading of Paterson at the world’s most literary gym—the Y at 92 and Lexington in NYC—became striking precisely for what was not immediately striking. The names “Robert Lowell” and “Kenneth Koch” were perhaps the most immediately recognizable, the more boring aspects of this notice. A Google search for “Arthur Luce Klein” shows that he was the director of spoken word LPs, and that “Talley Beatty” danced in Maya Deren films, among other things. Beatty’s name was one which, as an experimental film buff, I should have had in my brainpan, but luckily it is a name that Google searches shine their grace upon. The name “Kevin McCarthy” is another matter. There must have been a deep sigh that accompanied my typing his name into the search engine, knowing I’d get all matter of Facebook pages from 17-year-olds in Illinois, and track and field stats from La Jolla. You cannot be famous with a name like Kevin McCarthy—you are doomed to be usurped by your doubles at all turns. Which is probably why the most famous Kevin McCarthy, and perhaps our man, played Dr. Miles Bennell in the 1956 Body Snatchers. Who better to play out the drama of more perfect alien bodies replacing yours than someone with a name which is as empty a repository as is “John Smith”?
What, then, was going on in this performance of Paterson? It may be that McCarthy was brought on board merely for the imprimatur that celebrities tend to give avant-garde works. Or was there a more pointed connection to his most famous role? Because one can imagine the poets reading and the dancer dancing (creating, it must be said—if I imagine correctly—a racialist division between the white poets’ work of words and the “natural” inaccessible beauty of the Falls as a black man). But the B movie actor? What was he doing? What else? B-movie-ing: with paranoiac intensity, he must have performed the body-snatching confusion of “who speaks?” in Paterson. Does the man inhabit the place or the place the man, his thoughts sitting and standing on the bus, animated automatons abounding, “They walk incommunicado . . . . They begin!” It’s like a blob and robot movie rolled up in one. Now that I think of it, you could subtitle all of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with random lines from Paterson, and it would make sense, especially given Paterson’s talk of fertility, gamma rays, and sleep (if you remember, you become one of them if you go to sleep . . .).
Compare, then, if you will, the following representative passages:

Listen to me,
Please listen.
If you don’t, if you won’t
If you fail to understand
Then the same incredible terror
That’s menacing me
Will strike at you!
--Invasion of the Body Snatchers

A false language. A true. A false language pouring—a language (misunderstood) pouring (misinterpreted) without dignity, without minister, crashing upon a stone ear.

. . . and decide for yourself!

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