Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bad Moon Rising

Swamp Thing #40 (1985)

With her pale skin, black hair, and air of innocence, 13-year-old Sarah Patterson was perfect for Rosaleen in THE COMPANY OF WOLVES.

UNLIKE Disney's sugar coated simulacrums of folktales, Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES resembles the original oral folklore of medieval times. These stories - the television and pornography of their day - were consistent with times full of violence, as well as beauty. Based on Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, the film is essentially a coming-of-age tale, a dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood making explicit its sexual and Freudian subtext. For the writer, the original version(s) of Little Red Riding Hood operated as a structured agenda to warn young girls of the dangers of sexual maturity, and implicates for them a passive family and societal role. By viewing this and other traditional tales from a feminist perspective, both subtle and blatant inversions took place within Carter’s stories. Jordan wrote the script in collaboration with the author, and as such, the film creates a symbolic world where the transition from child to adult - from girl to woman - is a change to be both celebrated and feared.

As in Freud, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson)'s visage deals with her psyche as characters in her dream. Grandmother (Angela Lansbury) symbolizes the path of rules, caution, and fear. Rosaleen is warned by her Grandmother to never "stray from the path… once you stray from the path you're lost entirely! The wild beasts know no mercy. They wait for us in the wood, in the shadow, and once you put a foot wrong they pounce!" What the elder is really saying is to stay on the path of celibate adolescence leading to marriage, and to beware of the bestial sexuality of men.

Swamp Thing #40 contained The Curse, a segment of Alan Moore’s American Gothic story arc.

Like John Fawcett’s GINGER SNAPS, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES uses the changing body of the werewolf as a metaphor for puberty, menstruation and sexual maturity. The recurring motif of the full moon draws obvious parallels between the menstrual (often thought lunar) cycle and the 'call of the wild' of the full moon for werewolves, which was also the subject of Alan Moore’s story for DC Comics Swamp Thing #40 titled The Curse. This tale provoked more heated mail - pro and con - than any other entry in Moore’s celebrated run on the title, ranging from letters about feminism to suicide. But The Curse works as a female werewolf yarn on three levels: as a horror story standard, an allegory for menstruation, but also men’s attitude to the female sexual cycle and by extension their attitude to woman. This hints at Moore’s true illustration for the work - that physical and psychological mistreatment of the gender goes back a long way.