Readings: Point Omega, Experimental Film

Two books organized around films: in Don Delillo’s Point Omega the film in question is Hitchcock’s Psycho, as experienced through an art installation that apparently did exist, Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, which plays the film in extreme slow motion, two frames per second, so that the entire film lasts a full day. It being a literary novel, the fascinating frame story of the possibly aspirational murderer watching the film is rudely interrupted by a long dry visit to the desert, where an aspiring filmmaker attempts to persuade an ageing neocon intellectual to unburden himself of any secret guilts he may harbour over having supported America’s post-9/11 invasions both as a writer and as a kind of consultant to the military, a maker of useful fictions. The old man feels no guilt, secure in a cocoon of pretentious bullshit, until his beloved daughter (the daughter is a cipher and manic pixie, whose purpose is to be the sole object of her father’s uncritical adoration and the vaguely erotic yearnings of both the narrator-filmmaker and the Psycho-watching psycho) vanishes suddenly, and he is brought low by personal grief where culpability for atrocity could not reach. This is a short book that still manages to make its meat taste a little belaboured—though not as much as the dead horse that was The Silence—but the Psycho-obsessed exoskeleton is fascinating as a reading of Gordon’s installation. The desert bullshit sessions are interesting in the sense that any asshole old man’s ranting is interesting if you listen to it in slow motion, in the way it constantly betrays and subverts itself; the pointed reversal of de Chardin’s omega point to gesture in a vaguely Ligottian direction is the best of it.

In Experimental Film by Gemma Files, the (fictional) films in question are the works of an early twentieth century filmmaker named Iris Whitcomb, a series of short films iterating through increasingly symbolic dramatizations of a Wendish folktale. It being a horror novel, of course the folktale and the malevolent figure at its heart are real, and the plot devolves at the end into a race against time to stop it from getting out &c., which was rather disappointing because all the rest of the book is deeply fascinating—the narrator’s chronic pains in body and motherhood, her spiky, difficult relationship with Canadian film as an industry and a history, her slightly grimy ambitions, and the dynamic with her own mother, all wonderfully realized. For some reason, in both books I particularly enjoyed reading characters watching and reacting to films, probably much more so than I would enjoy watching those films myself. There is a great fascination in watching a watcher—something DeLillo’s Psycho-watcher does almost as much as he watches the film, observing and commenting on every other viewer who comes by. There’s an art installation that must be negotiated in Experimental Film, too: the narrator has to run the gauntlet of an entirely dark, claustrophobic space where the only cues are auditory, but the sensory deprivation, as one of the tortures that DeLillo’s neocon uncle romanticizes at length, forces a crossover between the art installation itself and the hallucinatory disruptions that might equally come from the narrator’s migraines or her hauntings.