Newspaper Archive of
The Texas Sun
Buda, TX
December 10, 1976     The Texas Sun
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December 10, 1976

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13 rst . . . We are witnesses at an ornate ceremony disembowelling adolescence, complete with rites of sacrifice, purification, and absolution--all metaphors of destruction. by Dan Duling Dear A b by, I need your advice. The most popular m our school just asked me to go with the prom. I really would like to go but I don't know if I should. You see, I'm sixteen years old and only recently Started menstruating. It was quite a Shock and my mother wasn't too happy about it. Also, I recently discovered that I'm telekinetic [I can move and break objects with my mind] but it's all right since I'm learning to control it and make it work for me. Of course, Mother doesn't Understand. She's very religious, which is all right with me--I do wish she wouldn't slap me around and lock me in the closet With St. Sebastian, though. Anyway, everybody at school hates me and I'm not very attractive and I don't know how to dance, and my mother says I'm in collusion with Satan. So, Abby, my question is, do you think I can still live happily ever after? BLEEDER A T BATES HIGH Dear BLEED: I get thousands of letters just like ~ours from teenagers everyday and IT1 tell you what I tell them: Grow up/ Taylor or Clark Gable came along to lead them out of the adolescent woods, are either still sleeping alone or are convinced, somewhere in the back of their minds, that they compromised their youth. But romantic movie ideals helped them endure the traumatic juncture between childhood and adulthood. Today, adulthood has fallen consider- ably out of favor, symbolizing ruts, crippling inhibitions and general loss of humor. Even more important for surviving adolescence now is maintaining one's "cool." Of. course, "cool" is just as unrealistic as waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right. Carrie White's confrontation with puberty and the end of her adolescence lets us recall the feeling of coming face-to- face with too much craziness, impossible demands, and perhaps the last time we ever fought it out with our feelings, one- on-one. And knowing that you were warned, or that everybody has to go through something like this sooner or later, doesn't help at all when you're standing up there on the stage and everybody's laughing at you. No time for cool when you're monster and victim all in one. :.:*: .: ::: .. Avenging Angel of Puberty Brian De Palma's Carrie focuses on the trials of a young girl with all the problems indicated in the preceding letter. It is a .bloody movie. Carrie contains a shower tnterrupted by blood, a shower of blood, a blood bath, and even a modest amount of bloodletting. It is also one of the most refreshing films in quite some time, filled With huge splashes of dark humor and a lively sense of unpretentiousness. There are no survivors from adoles- cence. There are only adults and old adolescents. There's a good side and there's a bad side to those "wonder Years" that coincide with high school; the film generates much of its energy from letting us share Carrie White's experi- ence with the bad and with the Undersides of the good. All of which are ugly. Carrie's mother does love her, but her Ways of expressing maternal affection are Unpleasant at best. And Carrie's classmates don't ignore her (that greatest of all adolescent fears). Instead, they Openly abuse her. The walls are covered with Carrie White-jokes and fecal comparisons. The teachers either laugh at her or try to mirror their own frustrations on her seemingly blank slate. Carrie has no time for imagined anxieties. Hers are alive and well, at home and at her hell-away-from-home, Bates High: an institution dedicated by director De Palma to the spirit of Norman Bates, the creepy motel owner from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho who so loved his mother that he gave his only begotten self that she might live to stab another day. Watching Carrie, I couldn't help thinking this pitiful girl has been given her supernatural powers to settle some long-standing grudges we all hold. Here at last was our avenging angel of Puberty. De Palma takes it for granted that as a culture we no longer expect movies and TV to reflect the general quality of life. They can now create it. Yesterday's youngsters who sat in the dark and vowed to hold out till Elizabeth C.avr~ could have been just another cheap-thrills fright flick. But De Palma subverts our screams and shudders by tossing us bits and pieces from our collective movie unconscious. Tommy, the boy who asks Carrie to the prom, is a high-school Robert Redford in The Way We Were. Everybody's out cruisin' ala American Graffiti. Preparations for the prom recall any number of '60s teen exploitation epics. It isn't necessary to have seen all these other movies to enjoy Carrie, but it does add to the fun. De Palma explodes every schlock cliche in a way that's so up-front it makes the scenes ring all the more true. John Travolta plays Billy and you can almost feel the identification in the audience with TV's Barbarino. De Palma knows this and shows us a character who's anything but cool. When he suddenly slaps the girl he's riding with, and later takes part in humiliating Carrie, the uprooted expectations begin to take their toll. De Palma isn't interested in trying to tell us that these are real people going to a real high school in 1976. That's just part of the scary flick, inside his movie about Carrie's story, inside his film parable on the perils of puberty. It's to his credit that he manages to keep all three levels intertwined. Carrie works. De Palma orchestrates his fright flick with overt technical gags (flip-flopping frames, swirling camera movements, carefully placed thunder, speeding up action, and so on) to tease our gullibility. He grounds his movie in a marvelous frog-princess performance by Sissy Spacek. She manages Carrie's radical transformations with a subt]e strength that lets us believe in both her roles as victim and as guiltless avenger. Finally, De Palma exercises his most sacreligious gamesmanship to allow us to stand outside the primary action and sense the fable and ritualistic qualities of his tale. Adolescence, he reminds us, is a horrific experience, not unlike being the butt of an elaborate dirty joke while at the same time being fated by body chemistry to "grow out of it" and discovering new powers you didn't realize you had before. Mercifully, though, by showing us the tricks and borrowings that other directors might have tried to pass off as "the real thing," he lets us smile an "amen" at the same time we squirm. Carrie plays on our expectations, setting us up and then purposely delaying resolutions. By the time Carrie is finally assaulted and her psychic vengeance is unleashed, we are no longer able to simply enjoy the execution of movie justice. Carrie's plot has been turned into an elaborate ritual. It is disconcerting to watch the destruction of the prom from a considerable distance--the split screen and muddy action minimize any shock. We are witnesses at an ornate ceremony disembowelling adolescence, complete with rites of sacrifice, purification and absolution--all metaphors of destruction. Oh Mum, Poor Mum Lastly, there's a need to play out Carrie's relationship to Hitchcock's Psycho. De Palma lifts the infamous soundtrack shriek and builds a mislead- ing set of expectations from the film. Being aware of Psycho helps reinforce Carrie's sense of self-destructive patterns of action. De Palma seems to be saying we're all still going to Bates High. The only ones who graduate are those in whose lives death by natural or super- natural causes was the creative apex. Sixteen years ago in Psycho, we ran away for love and money with Janet Leigh and pulled off the road at the Bates Motel to rest and clean up. Secure in the privacy of her motel room, we climbed into the shower with her and watched in horror as poor defenseless Janet was hacked to death by Norman Bates' mother. Abandoned in the middle of nowhere (in the middle of a movie no less} with a pathetic character called Norman Bates. Even when we found out that Norman and his mother lived inside the same body and when Norman was safely locked up, the lesson learned was no easier to swallow: You can't trust anybody these days. And if that wasn't sufficiently unsettling, there remained the nagging sensation that Norman's mother got away with murder and child abuse of the highest order. Perhaps, with Carrie's ritualistic parental sacrifice, an attempt is finally made to avenge this ancient and pre-rational wrong against adolescence. De Palma has transformed the sensation of being trapped in the abyss between childhood and adulthood into a series of rites: initiation, baptism and sacrifice. We have rings and weddings as reminders of the sanctity of marriage. We have funerals and gravestones as reminders Of the sanctity of death. And for the trial by fire, the showdown with our own irrationality, of adolescence, we now have Carrie. The memory and the artifacts remain. A vacant lot with a For Sale sign that is also a cross. There is a eulogy scrawled across it. And there is also a reminder for the adolescent in us all, that we are still a long way from being invulnerable. Still a long way from achieving perfect "cool." Oh mum, poor mum, Carrie's hung you in the closet and I'm feeling so numb ....