FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 26, 2019

SUSPIRIA Day 26: two sides of this

In college I took a class called "The Gothic and Grotesque in Anglo-German Film and Fiction" and yes it was exactly as effing rad as you're thinking it sounds. I mean, I wrote a 10-page paper about a single passage in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, so, you know, it was clearly formative in my journey toward becoming a person who would write about a single movie 31 days in a row.

But! I don't tell you this because all of the details of my life are incredibly scintillating, although that's very obviously true. I bring it up because one fine day we spent class time discussing who was ultimately more terrifying, Max Schreck's Nosferatu or Bela Lugosi's Dracula. (I told you, this class ruled hard.) Essentially it boiled down to which iteration is the bigger danger–the monster who is quite plainly a monster given his repulsive appearance and mannerisms? Or the suave, seductive one who doesn't seem like a monster until it's too late? Obvious vs. insidious, which frightens you more? It's very much a Markos vs. Blanc question, don't you think?

I've talked about the Markos picture before, of course, but seeing them juxtaposed is just so perfect, the women and their ideologies delineated not only by the door frames running between them, but by the photos themselves. Markos, the mysterious despot kitted out in her dictator sunglasses and Frauwear from Dress Barn West Berlin, not giving two shits about being photographed well; it's a far grander statement that she's the only one in the Company photos afforded a first name. On the other side, Blanc, the artistic director looking cool as fuck, making her statement by ensuring that her photo is something gallery-worthy. However, while those door frames run right down the middle, separating them like the Berlin Wall, they're more alike than their differences in aesthetics and charm would initially make it seem.

Side note: no, the photos underneath Blanc and Markos do not line up exactly with how each woman voted. I suppose that would be too on-the-nose, although given all the other details in this movie I was a bit surprised to find they didn't all match up.

Who among us wouldn't be enamored with Madame Blanc? She is a powerful, confident creative force. She commands the room as a tough but fair instructor, the kind everyone wants to impress. Tanner and Sara both speak of Blanc's "light," with Sara describing how powerful it is. "'Addictive' is the word for it." I would say that above all else, she is an artist, but I don't think that's entirely accurate. It's true she's an artist nonpareil, but she has a way of making us forget that above all else, she's a witch. And she will use monstrous means and inflict enormous suffering in the name of her work.

We first see a glimpse of her true nature in Susie's first session, where Blanc transfers the power to her that utterly destroys Olga. What happened to that poor girl is entirely on Blanc, and it shows us immediately that while she gives off an "aloof creative" vibe, she is not one to be fucked with, no matter how gentle her tone or touch. One moment she was soothing and smothering Olga with "kindness" and the next, Olga was a crumpled heap on the floor.

If we're feeling, uh, generous, that atrocity could be reasoned away as a protective measure–an unspeakably cruel one, of course, but done for the safety of the Company lest Olga leave and send trouble their way. But later, she casually inflicts intense pain on another dancer for the sake of being completely self-serving.

Blanc argues with Susie about the timing of her jumps in Volk, telling her "We need to get you in the air." She then takes the power behind Caroline's jumps and transfers it to Susie, the new star dancer.

Side note: there's a great crash zoom–one of several–from a closeup of Caroline to that closeup of Susie. Techniques like that really make Suspiria feel like a 70s film; how the movie is shot and edited is just as important as set dressing if a director wants to make an authentic genre period piece. Another great example: Ti West's The House of the Devil.

Minutes after that transference, Caroline collapses and suffers a horrific seizure that leaves her writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth. Blanc isn't bothered by it in the slightest, even going so far as to brush off everyone's concerns.

But the scene that perhaps most demonstrates just how slyly nefarious she is occurs later...and it's one of my favorites. I briefly talked about it in the post about hands, and I'll talk about it again in another post before this month is over: the sequence where Blanc and Susie are alone in the mirrored studio, talking creativity and practicing jumps.

This scene is intercut with Griffith's dining room suicide, during which the Matrons discuss the failure of Patricia as the vessel. Tanner says "Blanc is working on the new approach." They tried one method with Patricia–being more transparent with their plans–and it didn't work. Here, in the mirrored room, we see Blanc's "new approach," wherein she gives many inspirational speeches to her protégé, including this:
When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of its creator. You empty yourself so that her work can live within you.
It's a beautiful way of conveying the essence of performance to her new lead dancer. But that's just it, that's what's so treacherous: Blanc is absolutely an artist, and she is absolutely seducing Susie with her art faggotry. But to what end? For another incredible Volk performance, sure. But more so, she's manipulating Susie's infatuation and willingness to learn in order to prime the girl for Markos's takeover. All of Blanc's creative expounding is done largely in the service of the Sabbath, such as telling Susie to dance lead in a new improvisational piece, "Rebirth." She just does it, you know, artistically. It's disgusting. But again, first and foremost, she's a witch. What do we expect?

And really, that speech of hers is just a prettied up version of this:

"There will be nothing of you left inside. Only space for me."

Do I think Blanc's feelings for Susie are genuine? One hundred percent. I'll talk about the Susie/Blanc love story in another post this month, how they manipulate each other, what it's all about. It's delicious. It complicates things for Blanc. But it doesn't make her any less of a monster–in fact, it might make her even worse, that she has feelings for Susie and still deliberately manipulates her towards her very literal end.

Say what you will about Helena Markos, but at least she's honest. With the exception of maybe (perfect) Sara, Helena Markos is probably the most honest person in the entire film.

This isn't vanity. This isn't art.

Blanc can dress it up all she likes, can choreograph performances and talk art theory forever and completely mean every word. But ultimately, she's as monstrous as the repulsive, Hutt-adjacent Helena. Markos is right when she says they've "been on two sides of this," as their means and methods and "careers," as it were, might differ, but their ends are the same.

Which iteration is the bigger danger–the monster who is quite plainly a monster given her repulsive appearance and mannerisms? Or the suave, seductive one who doesn't seem like a monster until it's too late?


matango said...

This whole series is so good, Stacie.

Stacie Ponder said...

Thank you so much! I appreciate the heck outta it

Cláudio Alves said...

Interestingly, both Markos and Blanc are played by the same actress. I'd go so far as to say that Tilda Swinton plays three very different visions of evil in SUSPIRIA.

Markos, the grotesque evil that shows itself for what it is, it shocks and scares.
Blanc, the insidious evil that hides itself and conquers others through seduction.
Klemperer, the banal evil that is invisible because it's born out of doing nothing when action is necessary.

By the way, I love this series. Thank you for your amazing work.

Stacie Ponder said...

Yes, that's a great point! There's a lot to be said about Swinton as the id, ego, and superego in this movie, but I don't think I'll have time to get at it this month. That's not to say I won't in the future, though...

And thanks for the kudos. It means a lot :)

Unknown said...

I keep coming back to this page, I want to argue against some if your points but when I think about it, you are quite right. Blanc is a monster, I never thought of her as such before but she really is, but a monster with a heart--when she watches Susie stand to leave, the look on Blanc face read as dread/despair to me. "Oh No, this is happening".

Helena Markos I don't see as honest though. True, she tells Susie straight up what's going to happen, but she can because she has the power (like bad guys do in other movies and books) which was created from one gigantic lie. Her body, to me represents the diseased ugliness of her heart and soul. Who does Markos love? I don't even know that she cares for her coven, she has them terrified that if she dies their group will die too. Tanner looks so hurt when she gets pushed away from Jabba.

This was my long winded way of saying "Helena Markos is a lying monster and she broke Tanners heart."

Another wonderful thought provoking article Stacie!

Lyra215 said...

Regarding the arrengement of the pictures, if i'm not mistken, the voting poll occurres after said pictures are shown.
So maybe, the way they are set up reflects the results of their last voting session: hence, vendegast originaly sided with markos etc...

Unknown said...

What an amazing series! Thank you so much!

Your points about Markos being honest hit on a question I wondered too -- does Markos actually believe she's Mother Susp., or does she know she's an imposter?