I type to you from the British Library, where I have taken cover for the day in order to do some more reading for the Harryhausen article. The thing I’m currently trying to get a handle on is monsters and the monstrous in film. The problem is that the two Clash of the Titans films both appear in just the wrong eras for the usual social matrixes to apply, and I’m having trouble working my own way through the implications of historical context.
To back up a little. Film has to be understood as part of its historical context. It’s one of the things that creates a film’s production conditions, that emphasises what contemporary social and cultural concerns a film speaks to. The big player in this game is American society exploring its anxieties about itself through representations of the Roman Empire, normally through empire films like The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) or Gladiator (2000). Here, the historical context is set either in the Cold War, in which case there’s obvious historical interpretation about the anxieties concerning Russia and nuclear annihilation, or it’s a question of America’s new role in the world as the lone superpower, questions of modern empire, that sort of thing. (Monica Cyrino’s Big Screen Rome has a good intro to this sort of thing if you’re interested.) The monster analysis I’ve found so far fits into this pattern – 1950s monster movies work out the social anxieties of the Cold War period, and the danger of the end of humanity, through a dehumanised vehicle that allows fear to be fully represented without coming too close to home.
Here’s the snag. The two Clash films are neither set in the right period, nor are they about Romans. The non-Roman kit isn’t such a big deal, but the chronology is more of a problem. Even given the time delay involved in producing a Dynamotion picture, the 1981 Clash is a product of the late 1970s to early 1980s, but before the 1980s egotistic boom gets under way – Perseus is, in some ways, the last of the traditional film heroes before the anti-hero craze kicks in. The Cold War is over, more or less, and the biggest national incident is the Iran embassy hostages (now, this may be a lead worth following, but I digress). 1980, interestingly, is the year Mount St. Helens erupts, which may link into concerns with landscape and danger, but only tangentially. As for Clash 2010, it too falls in an interesting half-place – it’s too late to be all about the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan (or indeed quite properly about the global financial crisis), and while it’s obviously more interested in the individual hero narrative, I don’t quite see Hades as Goldman Sachs or the collapse of the Eurozone.
So I’m trying to work out the historical context in which these two films place monsters, and which anxieties and fears those monsters express (and why the question of landscape is then relevant to how those monsters are thematically expressed). If you can see something I’ve missed or have any ideas, please do put them in the comments!