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Jade Goody, Martyrs, and Martyrs (2008)

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I – 13th March 2009

Star On The Edge Of Precipice” it says — “Jade Nearing The End”.

Jesus Christ Almighty. Wincing, and eyes scrabbling for the nearest Anything Else. A slither of roll-up reek wispin’ about the curtain. The sell-by date on the curve of a Diet Coke bottle. A nicotine-yellowed biro-scrawled map hung on the wall above the laptop.

“This is intolerable”, saying, “swear to God, this whole thing. It’s intolerable.”

“What is?” asks Dymphna, hunched in the corner of the room next the wardrobe, picking tendrils of blue/green light from the gap atween the skirting and the wall. “What’s intolerable?”

“This.” Gesturing to the AOL. “This, all of this. Jade Nearing The End. Star On The Edge Of Precipice.”

She shrugs, wets a finger, runs it along the faux-pine finish, a wisp of turquoise rising then for to slither about her wrist. “Nothin’ to me. What is it to me if Jade Goody’s nearing the end or she isn’t? Jais’ sakes – people I know are dying. It’s hard enough pretendin’ to give a fuck about them.”

“That’s not the point” saying, jabbing at the touchpad, bidding the screen collapse. “That’s not the point at all. Look – honestly, if you aren’t fuckin’ terrified by this – I mean terrified – I mean cowering ‘hind the curtains, hands-over-eyes, ear-holes-sewn-shut, pishin’ yourself terrified, then…” A sigh. “I don’t know. I’m fuckin’ terrified, that’s what I do know, is that, is that I am fucking terrified.”

Studying a nub of amethyst prised out the paneling, held atween thumb and forefinger, she says, “I don’t recall you were over terrified, so I don’t, when that same screen there was black wi’ the bodies slung like wet rags about Gaza not three months ago. Nor when your man was shot dead in Craigavon. Nor -”

“That’s not the same,” I say. “That’s… the whole point is that those things are not the same.”

“Why? Because them dead or dying weren’t off the telly?”

“No – no, not because they weren’t off the telly, but because when they were on the telly – when they were the subjects of all them pictures, reports, commentaries, opinions – they were on the telly as human beings. Those were human tragedies. Reported by humans. However wrenching, however harrowing, still that news came to a fella’s eyes and ears from the realm of the Real.”

“Well what is this, if not Real? What are these, if not humans?”

What this is, I tell her, is a hideous panoply of gloating and gawking and false-empathy and cuntery and hypocrisy.

What these are, are wicked, gangrenous, contemptible hounds – hands wrung ragged, heads heavy with The Care, all the while spittin’ the full of their balls o’er their ankles at the thought of it – at the thought of her lain choking her last o’er the floor-tiles – aw the reek of her, boys, the reek of her, snared and cut and pasted and strewn over a thousand different spreads in a thousand different configurations…

That's what them are. What these other are, are rancid, hateful, detestable, sniggering worms – so far above all o’ this, but, boys, so far above it. So far above Her. Fuck her! In the cancer, fuck her!

That's what them other are. What there is, in the middle, is a woman dying a second death, the death of a shadow, of a sign long since shorn of signified – either that or bloated to bursting with it – the jade goody where the Jade Goody used to be…

Dymphna rising, sweeping the dust from her knees, saying “Umh-hmm. And where do you fit in, at all, I wonder? Where are you in all of this, you self-righteous hoor?”

“I don’t know” saying, reaching for the ashtray. “Wherever I was last time, maybe.”

II – 5th March 2009

“Nowt new under that, an’ that” says Talbot, scanning the front-page of The Sun. (JADE WEAKENS says the headline…) “Always, it’s been like this. Always these compulsions have been here.”

Always these compulsions propelling us from this one broken or breaking to the next. Always, for as long as we’ve had eyes wi’ which to gawk and mouths wi’ which to smirk. From this famished to yonder famishing, from this bloodied poplar to the other, from the glint o’ this crucifix or that – by bedside hung, the latter, Michael Schiavo stood beside, gaze kneading the gaze returned…

“…always these same old obsessions, boys.”

Always these obsessions with Martyrs and Martyrdom.

“Always these same old desires…”

Same old desires to fulfil all roles simultaneously – the barking inquisitor, the pyre and the flames that lash it, the ash and the black smoke billowing, the eyes upon and the eyes within, the cinders and the skin of the heels they gnaw.

The head of Daniel Pearl and the blade that loosed it from his body.

The mouth of Mohammadine Salar and the shots that tore it from his face.

“The trembles o’ O and the rages of Sir Stephen.”

The hand held and hand holding – hours spent and hours left.

III – 17th March 2009

Fag-yellowed fingers stringin’ words about the white-wash sprawl of the word processor screen…

Movie Review: Martyrs (2008)…

…Since inception, near as dammit, the cinema has been nowt if not a weaver of martyrs – not one foot front the other can a fella put, ‘thout hittin’ the shins off of one of them B’s – Bazin, Barthes, Brakhage, Uwe fuckin’ Boll, even, God's sake – givin’ it All That about the Death and the Dying and the Murder integral to cinema as a medium and as a technology and as a blah and a blah and a blah.

The knotting o’ the dead and the never-dead in every image ever toppled upside-down from out a camera – a medium of Martyrs (a medium of mediums, prob’ly, also), aye – and as often as not a medium of martyrs contemplating martyrs.

Edison fixin’ yon assassin to the chair. Griffith traversing space and time in search of That Great Eternal Suffering. Dreyer – blessed Dreyer – ankles-deep in Falconetti, the Joan from whom all subsequent joans’ve been wrought.

Forever martyring and martyred – those mentioned, any amount more: Ingmar Bergman, James Whale, Jean-Luc Godard, Lars Von Trier, Mel Gibson, Dario Argento, Eli Roth…

Into this comes sauntering Pascal Laugier, one hand clutching his 2008 picture Martyrs, the other trailing behind him the non-ghosts of all those martyrs martyred hitherto – the faces of those slain by Dreyer and Argento easiest to discern amidst the murk…

…Two act sort-of-plot. A child subjected to the most unspeakable, horrifying abuses escapes her captors. Years later – by now seriously disturbed, prone to hallucinations, self-harm… – she returns to take revenge. In the second act, said woman’s girlfriend is captured, tortured, abused…

Hitting the Save As…, calling to Dymphna, herself watching the TV in the next room – “Jady Goody… Publicist Max Clifford… OK Magazine… Mummy… Cancer… Heaven… Brink” – “Will you bring me in that book that’s sittin’ in there on the sofa, will you?”

Copy of The Story Of The Eye I borrowed off of my beloved and Holy Lisa a few nights past. An essay therein by Susan Sontag – something she says about the similarities tween the pornographic and religious imaginations – the “total universes” proposed by each, wherein every conceivable element is understood only in relation to, respectively, orgasms or God – the self-abandonment each requires, the transgression / transcendence, and the fascination the rest of us have with the subsequent dispatches from the abyss – from the precipice…

That discourse one might call the poetry of transgression is also knowledge. He who transgresses not only breaks a rule. He goes somewhere that the others are not; and he knows something the others don’t know.

(Granted, this is nothin’ especially revelatory – anyone who read, say, Anne Catherine Emmerich two hundred years ago must surely have reached the same conclusions – but what is revelatory anymore? Fuck all. Enough for things to be beautiful, is it not? For them to know what old revelations are worth repeating?)

Martyrs, like the rest of us, wants to be both martyred and martyring, wants to be inquisitor and subject, wants to be confessor and confessing, wants to be a relentless, grueling, women-in-peril horror picture and an interrogation of relentless, grueling, women-in-peril horror pictures – their (and our) motives and methods, their (and our) practices and perversions.

Beyond that, it wants to know what the very idea of Women-In-Peril means, what the sight of Suffering means – not only here, now, in this crazed and crazing culture currently obsessed with capturing every contortion and convulsion of Jade Goody’s body in the days, weeks leading to her death, but in all of those crazed and crazing cultures – the one Carl Dreyer sought to pull from the folds of Mlle. Falconetti’s face, for example, the one Joan herself wandered – with one foot at least…

It wants to talk about the secularisation of the Martyr – a complicated enough idea at this minute, when, on the one hand, Faith and Martyrdom, albeit certain Faiths, certain Martyrdoms, are as tightly bound as ever they were, and on the other, as far removed – if a Faith of some kind charged the blade that killed Ken Bigley, no Faith – or no Faith as easily identifiable, anyroad, no Faith as easy to slap on a Facebook About Me… – charges the hands typing Ken Bigley Beheading into the youtube of an evening…

Dymphna squinting at the screen – “What is this you’re writin’ wi’ these words anyway? What’s that? What’s… Porn? The porn are you at next? Jesus sakes here he’s at the bloody… the bloody torture porn, is it?”

“No”, saying, “I’m writing a review.”

“A review, he says! A review of the goddamn bloody torture porns!”

“It’s not torture porn.”

She reads aloud – “‘…girlfriend is captured, tortured, abused.’ What’s that if not the torture porn? What’s that if not exactly the same as all them other fuckin’ rotten, misogynist slabs o’ shite.”

It’s not, says I, and anyway – all those other fuckin’ rotten, misogynist slabs o’ shite are, for the most part, nowhere near rotten or misogynist. Folks that tell you different don’t know what they’re talkin’ about.

Folks like Pascal Laugier, in fact, I dare say – although he is at least intelligent enough (or Martyrs is intelligent enough, at any rate), to know that if those mythical “torture porn” pictures are indeed all rotten and vile and misogynist, then so are the likes of The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, Persona, Suspiria and Breaking The Waves (there, at least, he’d be right…) – all films Martyrs grapples with, to greater or lesser extent, throughout, be it in the mimicking of Falconetti’s movements, the explicit, almost-shot-for-shot lifts from Dreyer (thereby linking arms also with Godard’s Vivre sa vie), the engagement with Argento’s conspiracy of witches (“For Dario Argento” reads the dedication in the credits), the Bergman-esque dividing of classic Martyr Traits between protagonists…

“Classic Martyr Traits?”


The holy fool so beloved by Von Trier. The intermittent Zen-like repose of our Joan. The capacity for endurance characteristic of the Final Girl of most every slasher picture you care to mention.

(Granted, the Final Girl isn't a Martyr, except she sort of is…)

“Classic Martyr Traits…” Dymphna repeats. “Fuck me…”, and a shake of the head.

…For all of that, though – for all of the lifting and re-appropriating and commenting – Martyrs never comes anywhere near to feeling at all postmodern or – Jesus Christ forbid – ironic. It’s not pastiche – nor is it anything like the embarrassing, nauseating, ignorant bleating of that rotten old wheezin’ old bastard Haneke. Martyrs has weight – and yes, a good chunk of said weight comes from these references and gestures and thefts, for the point of it all – or two-thirds of the point anyway – is to ask why this continues to fascinate us, why suffering women, from Joan to Jade (“to Dymphna…” says Dymphna) continue to fascinate us (although The Grand Issue is nowhere near as gender-specific as that – the success of The Passion Of The Christ or of last year’s Hunger, the countless meditations on the punctured Sebastian, the proliferation of those washed-out, grainy images of sundry headless journalists or soldiers or aid workers toppling to the dirt – all of that, and any amount more, suggests otherwise) – What are we hopin’ to gain from it? What have we gained from it? What does it do to observer and observed, this deranged yearning? This thirst for transcendence – someone else’s transcendence…

What lengths will we go to, to know what them transcended know?

IV – 22nd March 2009

“Died in her sleep” Talbot tells me, reading off the Guardian home page. “They’ve got a bunch o’ commentaries here…”

“I dare say they do.”

“Hmmm. Whole bunch o’ them.” He scans the page, sipping from a mug of warm cider. “Terrible tale but, altogether, is it not?”

Terrible tale. This is the thing.

“It is” saying.

“It is. Terrible… But, still…” He minimises the page, slapping the palms then off the knees. “It’s over now, regardless. Done, thank God, for her and hers and us and ours. Dead, God love her, that’s that.”

“It’s not, though, but” says I, “is it? It’s not That. It’s not That at all. It’s nowhere fuckin’ near to That. We’re further from That than ever we’ve been.”

He gives a sigh and a cluck of the tongue. “Maybe.”


As he finishes his cider I tell him about the old fella I saw couple nights ago rummaging about the bins in the garden next door. I was just headin’ out, and saw him there – 3 or 4 in the mornin’ this was. Elbow deep in the bins, boys. Hands an’ arms all covered in muck and dirt, beard all stragglin’, coat all tattered. As he looked over, I turned and ran back inside.

“And what?” says Talbot. “Did he come after you?”

“No. Well, sort of. He came over to the bin, there.”

Plucking a cigarette from the box on the arm of the sofa, I say “I watched him through the peephole for five or six minutes. Every so often he looked up at the door. Eventually he went away. I went back upstairs. That’s that.”

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About Aaron McMullan

  • Wow Aaron.

  • Sir Fleming, thank you no end sire. Snuff in the mainstream – yes, i dare say there’s plenty truth in that. And here, maybe more truth than bears considerin’. For the slew of death-on-camera imagery is one thing, but this – yes. if there’s any difference between this and genuine upper-case Snuff, it’s damn hard to spy.

    It sounds – or reads – like hyperbole of the wildest sort – this is the risk run when mouthin’ off in the middle of these things – but I’m guessin’, and a fairly confident guess it is, that this in all the wrong ways is New, if not unexpected, and has served to trail us someplace totally f**kin hellish. What good has come of it – the awareness raised amongst young women, this sort of thing – is nowhere near enough to counter the – yes – terror that comes with observin’ it – and it’s still goin’ on – this total shatterin’ of any ideas a fella or a woman might hold about what Human means, at all, never mind Humane.



    Again, thank you sire. The world it means, from a scribe such as yourself.

  • Genius! Absolute genius!

    The things demanding thought – ya know, the myriad thoughts swirling the brain, tied up back, in a shed, ticket in hand, awaiting their turn – have multiplied threefold.

    Worry not, for the soulless exhibition of death and suffering terrified/terrifies me too. Maybe snuff was always in the mainstream. Maybe death was never just another narrative element used to pull the heart-strings and draw the tears. Maybe the mere act of witnessing is inseparable from death.

    Time’s only absolute is its own exhaustion.