Commentary Track

The Human Centipede (2009)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) 4.17.20
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary track begins at 11:41

— Notes —

  • The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory by J. A. Cuddon — This book’s a very helpful resource for grappling with the otherwise challenging or inscrutable terminology frequently encountered in academic writing. I’m linking to the 5th Edition, which also credits M. A. R. Habib, although I used to 4th Edition for the definition of diachronic/synchronic I’m including below:
    • “A term coined c. 1913 by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). A diachronic approach to the study of language (or languages) involves an examination of its origins, development, history and change. In contrast, the synchronic approach entails the study of a linguistic system in a particular state, without reference to time. The importance of a synchronic approach to an understanding of language lies in the fact that for Saussure each sign has not properties other than the specific relational ones which define it within its own synchronic system.”

  • “Eat Shit and Die: Coprophagia and Fimetic Force in Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)” by Dolores B. Phillips from The Projector — This essay by Dolores B. Phillips provides lots of insightful analysis, examining the politics of coprophagia and how it’s been depicted on film. Additionally, this essay comes from The Projector: A Journal on Film, Media, and Culture, which is completely open-access! This particular issue of The Projector focuses on the theme of food and consumption in horror cinema. We’ll include some insightful passages from Phillips’ essay below:
    • “The Human Centipede’s cult and commercial success suggest that it readmits excrementality—and that it is the epilogue of Laporte’s History of Shit, which tracks the return of excrement to the fields of cultural production. Excrement becomes capital, shit alchemically transformed into the coin of the realm. The films shift the register of excremental politics: much of its study (Warwick Anderson, Jed Esty, David Inglis, Achille Mbembe, George Bataille) concentrates upon the purgation, elimination, and celebration of shit. Indeed, excrement has a particularly potent political resonance in postcolonial fiction, where shitting in beds and leaving heaping mounds of filth in toilets is a particularly insulting intrusion into the homes of dispossessed middle class citizens and intellectuals whose lives are disrupted by political flux. Its ingestion adds a new dimension of cruelty and spite to images of effusive excretion and excessive consumption. As they avail themselves of an ironic posture toward recycling waste,images of coprophagy also align themselves with themes of decadence, humiliation, and hyper or mismanagement of the body.”

    • “…a deconstruction of the conflicting social settings of the subject in an age of information oversaturation. Instead of a solitary figure bent over a keyboard or a mobile device, face illumined by a single screen into which she stares, rapt, substituting virtual interactions for real-life connections with others, and instead of the endless connectivity with others offered by social media and the instantaneousness of immersion in the internet, the HUMANCENTiPAD and Six’s precursor films offer an intermediary: the individual sutured to others, ingesting excrement and extruding it. The solitary netizen is revealed as a fiction—she reads and is read by others. She is bound to them by the streams of information into which she dives, searching for stimulation and novelty, impatiently demanding updates by obsessively and repeatedly pressing F5. This is because the viewer is as much a segment in the centipede as its victims”

    • “Our own vertiginous enjoyment of the film’s horrors highlight the absurd, disturbing excess Gwendolyn Audrey Foster laments as she observes ‘the cyclical loop’ of ‘capitalism eating itself.’ She argues that television culture in the US disgorges its excess to feast upon it again in the forms of exploitative gluttony. She describes television as ‘coprophagic and cannibalistic in this way; TV is largely feces, our own regurgitated feces, which we ultimately pay to eat.’ Se notes that ‘shows such as Hoarders exploit and engage in coprophagia for better ratings, ultimately supporting gluttonous capitalism.’ Tom Six’s films make this the literal foundation for their appeal, especially as they sink deep roots in other moments of coprophagy in film and internet culture” [The writing by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster referenced in this passage from “Capitalism Eats Itself: Gluttony and Coprophagia from Hoarders to La Grande Bouffe“]

  • “Grotesque Realism and the Carnivalesque in Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and The Human Centipede II Full Sequence” by Ellen N. Freeman from Monstrum — We didn’t make use of this essay to help frame our conversation of the film, but it remains an insightful read. Freeman examines The Human Centipede in light of Mikhail Bakhtin’s writing on the carnivalesque and grotesque in Rabelais. Furthermore, Monstrum is an awesome multilingual, peer-reviewed open-access journal on horror and you should absolutely check out the other essays and reviews, which include writing on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Lucio Fulci, the occult in Hammer Studios Horror, Peeping Tom (1960).

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