The life and crimes of ben; or when a serial killer meets a film crew in man bites dog.
Article Type:
Critical Essay
Subject:
Serial murders (Portrayals)
Author:
Lafond, Frank
Pub Date:
01/01/2003
Publication:
Name: Post Script Publisher: Post Script, Inc. Audience: General; Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business; Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 Post Script, Inc. ISSN: 0277-9897
Issue:
Date: Wntr-Spring, 2003 Source Volume: 22 Source Issue: 2
Topic:
NamedWork: C'est arrive pres de chez vous (Motion picture)
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
105657306
Full Text:
It is often claimed that since the second half of the 20th century, serial killing has become a typically American activity. As Robert Conrath puts it, "The United States houses just over 5% of the world's population and 75% of its serial killers-Protestant mother England, home to their forebear Jack the Ripper, is number two. Of the 150 serial killers who have been condemned for their multiple murders in the world today, 120 reside in the USA" (1994:145). The same apparently goes for the cinematic serial killer, who, since the 1980s, seems to have increasingly appeared in American pictures which combine features of both horror films and thrillers.

The critical peak of this hybrid sub-genre can be traced back to the success of Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, which won five Oscars in 1992. Nevertheless, despite any ostensible national specificity, even a small country like Belgium- one which succeeds in producing only a few films each year (1)--tackled the subject around the same period. A low-budget horror comedy, Man Bites Dog was directed by three newcomers (Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, and Benoit Poelvoorde) and was released in Belgium on August 12th, 1992. (2) In the week following its release, it met with a surprising success exceeding that of the Hollywood blockbuster, Lethal Weapon 3, which opened simultaneously. Made over two and a half years, with only six or seven weeks of effective shooting during that span, the film eventually managed to become the most successful Belgian film of its time, and was released in various versions all over the world.

Man Bites Dog revolves around the figure of Ben (played by Poelvoorde), a character who was already the protagonist of a twenty-minute graduate student film made by Belvaux at the Insas (National Superior Institute of the Performing Arts) film school in Brussels. It seems that Ben is a "professional" serial killer, and we follow him through the film as he violently murders people, meets with friends (a prostitute, a musician, etc.), and visits his close relatives who run a grocery. Central to the narrative is the fact that Ben is being followed by a documentary film crew who become more and more personally involved in the various murders that its members first witness with an apparent impassivity. Just as Ben makes a living out of killing people, the crew feeds off the murders they film, not only because these violent acts are central to the documentary they are shooting, but also because Ben gives them some of the money he has stolen from his victims in order to finance and finish their picture. In fact, the verb "shoot" is to be taken here not only cinematographically, but also in the literal sense, insofar as the director of the crew, Remy (played by Belvaux), at one point shoots the technicians of another documentary film crew using Ben's own gun.

In what follows, I will give a brief account of the reception of Man Bites Dog at the time of its initial release and identify some of its basic stylistic features. I will thus be able to explore various documentary aspects of the film, including its representation of the serial killer. This will logically lead into a discussion of Man Bites Dog's status as a mock "snuff" film.

RECEPTION AND BASIC STYLISTIC FEATURES OF MAN BITES DOG

At the time of its 1992 opening, and in the wake of its much talked-about screenings at the Cannes Film Festival the same year (where it won three prizes (3)), Man Bites Dog quickly gained cult status, thanks especially to a handful of shock sequences and clever lines. There were also reservations about the film's crude, at times even scatological dialogue, its sense of the macabre, and its extreme bad taste--all of these elements tinged with a good dose of morbid humor.

One sequence in particular caught the attention of French language audiences. At one point, Ben appears drunk and is dressed as a priest, but we can only guess the reason why (the implication is that he has just killed a clergyman). He fixes the crew a cocktail which he calls a "Little Gregory," consisting of a glass of gin and tonic in which he drops an olive attached to a sugar cube. A contest follows, according to which the winner is the one whose "Little Gregory"--now designating only the olive and the sugar cube--takes the longest to surface. This sequence mockingly alludes to the tragic real-life murder case of Gregory Villemin, four years old, found tied up and drowned in a French river, "La Vologne" (which runs in the Vosges) on October 16th, 1984. At the time of Man Bites Dog's release, the Villemin story had been a sensation in the news for several years, as the French police had failed to solve the case and as new episodes continued to succeed one another: the mother was accused of infanticide; ano nymous letters relating to the case were spread all over the city; the boy's uncle was accused of the crime, then discharged before being assassinated by the father.

Thus, it is small wonder that the film generated controversy and was surrounded by a whiff of scandal in Belgium, where a poster ad indirectly representing Ben shooting a baby was prohibited from display. (4) All one saw on the original poster was a comforter sitting next to a body that has been reduced to a bloody mass, but the comforter was eventually replaced by a dental plate. In the United States, a gang-rape scene and the murder of a child were cut from Man Bites Dog's theatrical release version. The editing out of the former sequence seems particularly prejudicial to the film, since most who have seen it agree that it stands as the point of no return for the crew's implication in Ben's sordid activities. As opposed to John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1990), however, the picture was released uncut in England, because then-head of the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) James Forman supposedly "claimed that Man Bites Dog had a definite moral sense behind it, that it ultimately conde mns what it portrays" (Kerekes and Slater, 1995: 65-66). As for the uncensored UK video release, David Kerekes and David Slater offer another explanation: "The BBFC argued that the film ('a savage lampoon of media complicity') would not appeal to certain social classes because it was b&w and subtitled" (2000: 364).

Despite all of the critical reservations surrounding it, Man Bites Dog met with widespread public approval. As one might expect when dealing with a film featuring a monster (whether supernatural or human), its success and cult status was due in large part to the extroverted personality of the serial killer. A natural-born showman in front of the diegetic film crew's camera, Ben is by turns boastful, demonstrative, racist (he even displays a colonialist attitude towards a domestic helper), as well as a poet when the mood strikes him. To rephrase a line by Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, "you can always count on a murderer for a fancy poetry style." In France and Belgium, the DVD release of Man Bites Dog allows the viewer to read the various poems spoken by the protagonist throughout the movie, as do some of the homepages maintained by fans on the internet.

But if Ben became a kind of trash (anti-)hero, the stylistic choices made by the film's three directors tend to transform him into a real-life one. Man Bites Dog was shot in grainy black-and-white 16mm stock, using a handheld camera, with non-professional actors (family and friends) and locations including Brussels, Louvain, and Namur. It stands to reason that the sound was recorded live, as well. As the directors themselves have acknowledged, some of these aesthetic choices were dictated by the small budget at their disposal, first and foremost the idea of using the mock documentary form (Bonzel, 1992). This form gives the impression that the entire picture is being filmed in point-of-view shots (strongly suggesting the presence of someone behind the camera), thereby breaking the cinematic illusion and placing viewers in a position where they tend to believe more forcefully in the reality of what is happening on the screen. Interestingly, however, Andre Bonzel--who worked as director of photography during th e shooting phase--has stated that black-and-white stock was used because it brings about a further distanciation effect, (5) while at the same time evoking the photographs used in newspapers.

I would now like to draw special attention to the documentary aspects of Man Bites Dog, focusing initially on the film's explicit reference to a particular Belgian TV show. I will then be in a better position to discuss the picture in relation to snuff film mythology--undoubtedly the most extreme case of "cinematic realism" in the horror genre. My use of the terms "realism" and "realistic" to qualify various horror films in the following pages is intended to imply not only that their narratives eschew the presence of supernatural forces (thus making them horror films with "realist monsters"), but also that their aesthetic in one way or another strives to objectively reproduce various features of reality, even at times the most trivial ones (such a strategy might be called "naturalism").

STRIP-TEASE OF A SERIAL KILLER

Man Bites Dog stands somewhere between Henry and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994). Like McNaughton's film, it offers the portrait of that modern-day monster, the serial killer, and like Stone's film, it focuses on the hunger for media recognition of such monsters. What makes Man Bites Dog a realist horror film is its documentary elements, but what gives the movie its peculiar tone--and not just for foreign audiences--is its adoption of an aesthetic derived from a well-known television show produced in Belgium, Striptease.

Since the show's debut in the mid-1980s, Marco Lamensch and Jean Libon (the two main directors) have scoured the roads of Belgium and Northern France, penetrating deep inside the homes of ordinary families. They do their best to capture on camera the pettiest events in the lives of so-called "ordinary folk": a woman spends an entire Sunday afternoon watching a car race on TV to support her favorite driver, etc. At the time of the Cannes Film Festival, Benoit Poelvoorde declared that he and his co-directors had the "desire to laugh at certain reports of the Belgian television, like those of the Strip-tease show, which look at anonymous people as if they were freaks. Things that we like to watch, while at the same time we find them morally disgusting." (6)

The look of Strip-tease is made easily recognizable by the total invisibility of the reporters (they never enter the frame, nor ask any questions), encouraging us to believe that we are witnessing actual events without any kind of mediation and further enhancing the extreme voyeuristic dimension of the show. This is only possible in the first place because of the intimacy established by the crew, who would live among the people chosen as subjects for several days before filming them. Moreover, when the presence of a reporter is felt off-screen, the viewer understands that he is not positioned close to the camera: the reporter doesn't stand by our side in the space situated next to or behind the camera (a space that Marc Vernet has theorized following the work of Noel Burch). In this case, the look of the person being interviewed skims past the camera; subjects behave almost as if there is no cameraman present at all. To sum up, one can say that Strip-tease aims at filming the extreme banality of everyday life . The scenes in Man Bites Dog that directly refer to this show are those in which Ben is shown as a social being, such as the meetings with his family and the interviews in bars.

The original title of Man Bites Dog--C'est arrive' pres de chez vous (It Happened in Your Neighborhood)--reveals a similar attention to banality. This title was inspired by the title of a column in the Belgian daily paper Le Soir, dedicated to what is known in French as "les chiens ecrases" (literally, "the squashed dogs"); that is to say, the local news. Obviously, filming a serial killer on the run is far from ordinary. However, one may reverse Poelvoorde's earlier remark and assert that Man Bites Dog presents a freak as if he were an anonymous person, so much so that Ben and the crew will eventually come across a second documentary film crew following another serial killer.

Despite the film's documentary pretensions, the use of the term "serial killer" to describe Ben is somewhat problematic. According to Conrath, "serial killing is usually not the expression of deeply suppressed rage, complete social alienation, and acute schizophrenia but simply a vital--both visceral and at times intellectual--drive to kill, an uncontrollable pleasure that, like any uncontrollable pleasure, thrives on repetition" (1994: 144-45). During the scene set in an abandoned factory, when Andre (the diegetic crew's boom operator) is casually shot down, the film actually hints at the profound nature of serial killing. Watching Remy viciously kicking the ambushed gunman who lies on the ground dead, Ben tells him: "Stop, kid, stop. It begins this way and then you get to like it. Stop..." For Ben, killing appears to be simply a career, a way of making a living which requires that one act in cold blood. Ben displays a professionalism based on an acute sense of observation (he remarks that an intended victim has a heart condition, so he chooses to frighten her to death instead of shooting her) and the application of pseudo-scientific methods (e.g., the calculations he makes in order to correctly drown the bodies, calculations which vary over the course of the film). As in any business there are bad investments, in this case killings that fail to bring in money, as for example the three family members Ben butchers to death in a residential quarter.

Only occasionally are we able to catch a glimpse of a possible etiology of serial killing. The first time we meet Ben's family, the scene ends jarringly with his mother recalling how her son used to fight with other boys when he was young. Later, in his old bedroom, Ben reveals the soft-core amateur pictures made by his grandfather, an erotomaniac who used to sell panties supposedly belonging to actresses. On the screen, we see a clearing where half-naked girls are dancing around lasciviously in a ring. The camera then cuts to Ben, who expresses his belief that one of the women is his grandmother's sister. We are constantly reminded of our presence in a child's bedroom by the toys hanging from the ceiling, along with Ben's frequent warnings not to damage them. The implication here seems to be that, as a boy, Ben was exposed to these erotic and slightly incestuous images, and it is tempting to speculate on how such images could have made a lasting impression on his young and fragile mind.

Apart from these two examples, however, the film offers no insight into the question why Ben became a serial killer. Although he almost never stops talking, not even in the heat of action, (7) at no time does he explain the deeper motivations behind his behavior. The only explanation left to the spectator is that this is the way he has found to make a living.

The documentary being made within the film shows that Ben is seeking neither fame nor notoriety (at least not by virtue of the murderous acts themselves: they are wholly lacking in the originality that might draw the media's attention), even if he appears to enjoy the crew's presence and helps them Out financially so that they may finish their picture. Of course, central to the comic and horrific aspects of Man Bites Dog is its total naturalization of the various atrocities committed by the killer, by way of an aesthetic that mobilizes those documentary devices applied in Strip-tease (and elsewhere) to the lives of ordinary people. Hence, the film does succeed in enlightening the true nature of the serial killer. As in David Fincher's Se7en (1996), Ben appears to be a John Doe (Kevin Spacey). But unlike Fincher's killer, it is perfectly clear that Ben does not have any long-term plan according to which his murders serve a particular function. Instead, he kills methodically but randomly, just like Henry (Micha el Rooker) does.

One of Man Bites Dog's most memorable sequences--the second scene in the film, and one that was frequently shown during the promotional campaign--makes it apparent that, while the corpses may be commodities which bring in money, they are in fact nothing but objects. Having just strangled a woman on a train, Ben is set to dispose of her body in the nearest river. Before actually doing so, however, he takes the time to explain to the crew (and so to us) how to mathematically ballast a dead body according to the age and size of the victim. Though hesitant at times, his elocution is nevertheless without emotion. (Recently, I happened to watch a documentary on a French/German TV station in which a Hindu was describing the best way to prepare a body for cremation, and I was surprised to see how close this came to the film we are dealing with here. In both cases, we are confronted with professionals whose detachment towards death can only shock us.) Ben is simply trying to do his job the best he can, even if, as Ker ekes and Slater note, the woman's body finally refuses to sink to the bottom. (8) In McNaughton's film, Henry displays a nearly identical attitude. Shortly after the murder of two prostitutes, he didactically explains to his partner Otis (Tom Towles) how one can avoid being traced by the police by not using the same weapon twice, by frequently changing one's modus operandi, and by constantly staying on the move.

A closer look at Henry will allow us a better understanding of the nature of horror aroused by Man Bites Dog. McNaughton's film opens with the camera slowly pulling back from the face of a dead woman lying on the ground. We then cut back and forth between shots of various dead bodies and Henry's insignificant activities. In Isabel Pinedo's words, "As the camera moves around the lifeless bodies, we hear bits and pieces of the soundtrack of the murder, particularly disembodied screams. The temporal disjunction between the present of the visual track and the past of the sound track is unsettling and disorienting" (100). Only the acoustic flashbacks manifest the actual fierceness implied by the murders. For although the bodies show marks of struggle, not only do they look peaceful, but it seems like they have become morbid and gruesome paintings. According to Steven Jay Schneider, "One distinguishing mark of the modern horror film.. .is a shift in the genre's dominant aesthetic metaphor: what used to be the monst er as corrupt work of art has become (evolved into?...) the monster as corrupt artist" (67). Schneider pertinently asserts that Henry as a film belongs to the trend he calls "murder as artistic product," but that the artistry of the murders "is McNaughton's, and McNaughton's alone" (78). However that may be, the staging of the deaths (a typically postmodern trait) manages to transform the violence that the serial killer has unleashed on his victims into a kind of harmony, a transcendence of sorts. So if Henry possesses a realist style, it nevertheless resorts to an artistic--albeit perverse--sensibility in order to give the spectator a different view of the murderous activities of its eponymous anti-hero.

In sharp contrast to Henry, in Man Bites Dog we hardly ever see the corpses occupying the space of the screen by themselves; when we do, it is usually after they have been prepared for disposal. Wrapped up in white sheets, all human beings (whatever their sex or age) look the same. They are reified, and appear as the left-overs of an act of consumption. Thus, if Henry's murder scenes could be named like tableaux due to the fact that each corpse possesses its own particularities (e.g., "Woman in the River," "Prostitute with Bottle"), the parallel scenes in Man Bites Dog are never staged as privileged moments for somebody else's eyes. We should note one crucial exception to this claim, however--the previously-mentioned gang-rape scene--which we will discuss more fully below.

MAN BITES Doc AS SNUFF FILM

In Man Bites Dog, as in The Blair Witch Project seven years later, the crew appearing on the screen is supposed to be the same one that made the film being projected. In both cases, the film's conclusion further enhances the reality effect: both end abruptly for the very good reason that all the diegetic filmmakers die. In the final sequence of each picture, the camera continues rolling after the brutal death of the cameraperson until the magazine runs out and the projector's white light fills the entire screen. As a typical postmodern horror film, in which "violating narrative closure has become de rigueur" (Pinedo, 29), Henry ends without a destruction of the evil that has been unleashed. The serial killer is not punished (he is never even suspected by the authorities) and is capable of striking again at any time. Also a postmodern horror film, Man Bites Dog nevertheless does offer narrative closure, since the realistic monster and his new accomplices are gunned down by an unknown sniper. But the arbitrary nature of this ending leaves the viewer with a sense of absurdity, and does not lead to a restoration of the normative order violated by the killer.

In this final sequence, just as in the entire picture, the documentary style adopted by the three directors implies an exact correspondence between the time of the action and the time taken to film that action, thereby promoting a continuity that Andre Bazin tended to identify with realism. (9) Continuity of this sort can only be achieved over the course of an entire film through two different editing techniques: either (1) the real time of the events is shortened by the use of jump cuts which fragment the so-called "reality" into self-sufficient segments which do not follow the classical rules of editing (no shot-reverse-shot, etc.), (10) or (2) as in the final shot of the film, events are shown in their entire duration, that is without any apparent intervention (i.e., no choices are made concerning the pro-filmic reality) by the filmmakers themselves. (11)

Before going any further in this direction, it should be pointed out that there is an interesting exception to that bias which consists in showcasing the horror of violence only in documentary style and via sequence shots. After killing a postman early in the film, Ben fools around with two young boys playing with plastic guns. Suddenly, in sharp contrast to what comes before and after it, a montage sequence displays various shootings and a strangulation murder committed by the serial killer. Here, violence and murder appear totally meaningless. They are desacralized by the process of repetition (each shot or shot-reverse-shot amounts to a single death) and make sense only in their own succession, in their own seriality. The "realism" here is due to the way the bodies begin to seem interchangeable. Far from being simply gratuitous, the film's scatological elements are there for a reason: the human body is reduced once more to its corporeal manifestation and secretions (faeces, urine, vomit), In Man Bites Dog, there is absolutely no idealization, and no sense of transcendence.

Leaving aside this montage sequence, most of the murders are filmed in long sequence shots. This manner of capturing the action forces the viewer to witness deaths that are supposedly true in their entire unfolding. It is precisely for this reason that Man Bites Dog, though often farcical, confronts head-on the issue of "snuff" cinema. Although their actual existence has been hotly debated, at least in theory snuff movies have two main components: (1) the death being filmed must be real, and (2) it must be visible in its entirety/continuity. As Sarah Finger explains, "we must see the dying person, in other words the victim on the verge of dying or actually dying, and not the death already accomplished" (23).

An example of Man Bites Dog as snuff film can be found in the opening scene. Like George Romero's Martin (1978), the picture begins with the murder of a woman on a train. But if Romero tends to strip the mythic figure of the vampire of its supernatural attributes by transforming it into a tortured young man-that is, a realistic monster (12) --his film nevertheless profoundly differs from Man Bites Dog. In the former, the use of classical editing induces narrative development (e.g., a shot-reverse-shot makes us understand that Martin is suddenly attracted to his future victim) and creates suspense (will Martin overcome his victim?), whereas the latter's single long take and lack of narrative context functions function to intensify the credibility of what we are seeing. Following a short credit sequence (just the names of the producer and directors), without any music but with the sound of a moving train, we see Ben standing in the corridor of a wagon and watch him attack a female passenger. He seems to have chosen as his victim whoever was unfortunate enough to enter the frame at this moment. Moreover, unlike Romero's film the continuous shot of the young woman being strangled is not at all dramatized by editing or music. Martin's realism concerns only the nature of the represented (the "vampire" uses a syringe instead of canine teeth, his victim is far from glamorous, since she blows her nose in the bathroom and wears a green face pack, etc.), whereas the re alism of Man Bites Dog concerns both the nature of the represented and its representation.

The collision between a documentary--albeit a false one (13)--and a serial killer's life and crimes inevitably raises the issue of snuff, and more specifically the problem of the spectator's place in front of supposedly real atrocities. I do not mean that the audience for Man Bites Dog is unaware of the picture's purely fictional content, but that the devices mobilized prompt a different reaction according to our degree of belief in what we see. Usually, it is the spectator's reaction to the sight of a snuff film that is examined more than the content of the film itself. Henry tackles this subject in an infamous sequence in which Henry and Otis watch one of their murders recorded on videotape. As the scene opens with a tight close-up of the TV set, we can only understand retrospectively that we have been occupying the viewing position of the two killers, a sufficiently disturbing revelation. When the tape is over, Otis decides to watch it again, this time frame by frame, perhaps expressing a subconscious desi re on the part of the spectator.

Man Bites Dog goes deeper than Henry in examining the role of the viewer in relation to the on-screen horrors by making the entire picture a snuff film or, in Julian Petley's words, a "snuff satire" (209). The film crew clearly stands in for the audience, first sitting off-screen in the dark of the theater and then progressively involving itself in the criminal's murderous activities. Remy, the spectator who is always willingly following Ben's instructions, helps him with the corpses and immobilizes a young boy as Ben suffocates him. Somewhat reminiscent of Peeping Tom, in which a movie camera is the murderer's weapon of choice, the camera's zoom lens in Man Bites Dog is used to localize another killer in the abandoned factory.

The film's turning point--a point of no return which destabilizes the spectator's identification in a profound way--is the gang-rape sequence. Even the diegetic cameraman (our metaphorical stand-in (14)) enters the frame to rape the female victim in front of her husband. This moment is strongly marked by the use of a temporal ellipsis which hides the actual murder from our view, as well by off-screen music and a tracking shot along the two ruined bodies. Contrary to what has come before, the murder here is completely gratuitous, as it does not provide any monetary gain for those who have committed it. Not only are the two bodies butchered, but like in Henry they seem to have been staged. In the beginning of McNaughton's film, the killer is absent from the scene of his crimes, not only in the opening montage but also in the presentation of the murder of the housewife he follows home from a supermarket. After the gang-rape sequence in Man Bites Dog, the tracking shot ends on the film crew, still half-naked, lyi ng asleep on the floor. From here on out, there is little chance that the spectator will view them with the same mind as before.

In effect, the snuff film is presented by Man Bites Dog as the extreme form of the reality-tv shows which haunt our home screens. The voyeuristic position occupied by the spectator in such films admittedly implies safety, but it does not provide freedom from responsibility insofar as the viewer/voyeur enjoys the sight of pain inflicted on other people because he has expressed a desire for it. The snuff market--if such an economy exists--can only function in relation to the supply and demand. We are dealing here with a phenomenon that is twice monstrous. Not only does the criminal murder his victim, he also manages to profit from her death by selling a record of his vicious act. As noted above, Ben too gains from his murderous activities since, in the manner of a late-capitalist representative, he chooses his victims according to their estimated financial worth. In Man Bites Dog, the spectator is subject to the violence unleashed on the screen and his destiny is similar to that of the serial killer's other vic tims. That is undoubtedly where the moral stands.

CONCLUSION

Among the three directors of Man Bites Dog, only Benoit Poelvoorde, whose charisma is one of the picture's greatest assets, has managed to go on and have a substantial career in the industry. A few years after the film's release, he was even given the starring role on his own regular TV show (on Canal +), Les Carnets de Manhattan Manatane, in which his character gives decorum advice in colorful 1970s-style sets while manifesting profound similarities with Ben (notably a tendency to recite poems and to address an off-screen character named Nicolas, who represents the viewer the same way Remy does in Man Bites Dog).

David Schmid is certainly correct when he asserts that the anonymity of the actors contributed to making Man Bites Dog "a successful critique of the serial killer star system," one which reveals "the media's making of the serial killer into a celebrity as an ordinary, almost banal process." (15) Nevertheless, the growing popularity of the film's principal actor has worked retroactively--at least for its native audience--to transform the picture into a kind of one-man show starring Benoit Poelvoorde, the comedian. And needless to say, the farcical aspects of this horror film tend naturally to overcome the realistic ones.

Notes

(1.) In 1995, for example, Belgium produced only 24 films, more than half of which were actually co-productions (Bonnell, 249).

(2.) Man Bites Dog was released in France on November 4th the same year and became something of a hit. If the film is undoubtedly Belgian, it should nevertheless be noted that Andre Bonzel, who met Remy Belvaux at the Brussels Film School, is of French origin.

(3.) The film also won two prizes in Spain, one in Canada, as well as two others in France.

(4.) Later on, this poster was included in the film's DVD release, which increasingly appears to be the last refuge from censorship.

(5.) The contrary opinion could easily be supported. Although nowadays considered artsy, filming in black-and-white has long been used to increase the impression of reality. Consider, for example, the personal home (snuff) movies made by Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm) in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960).

(6.) Poelvoorde, 1992. In another article (Le Figaro, November 5, 1992), Remy Belvaux refers to Cops, which he recently had the opportunity to discover on American television during a promotional trip to the U.S.

(7.) In fact, Ben's loquaciousness seems to defuse some of the film's most horrible moments, like the murder of the child, which otherwise would probably become unbearable.

(8.) As Ernest Mathijs puts it, "Many reviewers mention that the fact that Man Bites Dog is consciously playing with humorous elements adds to the horror instead of contradicting it."

(9.) For the notion of realistic continuity developed by Bazin see, e.g., Bazin 1985.

(10.) This is how Strip-tease usually proceeds.

(11.) Contrary to The Blair Witch Project, Man Bites Dog employs various cinematographic processes, such as the voice-over, which are themselves part of the language of documentary film.

(12.) Even if Martin (John Amplas)'s true nature is not devoid of ambiguity.

(13.) The nation of false documentary, or mockumentary, is a cultural phenomenon. As Conrath puts it: "One of the most glaring tenets of postmodern popular culture is the collapsing together of the traditional epistemological categories of fact and fiction, veracity and verisimilitude" (1996:147). In Man Bites Dog, the blurring of fiction and reality is further increased by the fact that Benoit Poelvoorde plays a character named Ben (the pet name of Benoit) and that the two other co-directors are interpreting their own parts.

(14.) That is, if we are male. For the female viewer, the implications of this violence against another woman may well be different.

(15.) According to Schmid, "judging by contemporary standards of fame, the serial killer is the exemplary modern celebrity, widely know and famous for being himself."

Works Cited

Bazin, Andre. "Le Realisme cinematographique et l'ecole italienne de la Liberation" (January 1948). Reprinted in Qu'est-ce que le cinema? Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1985. 257-85.

Bonnell, Rene. La vingt-cinquime image. Paris: Gallimard, 1996 (new edition).

Bonzel, Andre. Interview in L'Ecran fantastique 128 (November 1992): 14-17, 82.

Conrath, Robert. "The Guys Who Shoot to Thrill: Serial Killers and the American Popular Unconscious." La Revue francaise d'etudes americaines, 60 (May 1994):142-52.

---. "Serial Heroes: A Sociocultural Probing into Excessive Consumption." In Euro- pean Readings of American Popular Culture, ed. Jean-Paul Gabillet and John Dean. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996. 147-57.

Finger, Sarah. La Mort en direct, Snuff movies. Paris: Le Cherche midi Editeur, 2001.

Kerekes, David and David Slater. Killing For Culture: An Illustrated History of the Death Film from Mondo to Snuff London: Creation Books, 1995 (revised and updated edition).

---. See No Evil: Banned Films and Video Controversy. Manchester: Headpress, 2000.

Mathijs, Ernest. "Man Bites Dog and the Critical Reception of Horror (in) Cinema." In Horror International, ed. Steven Jay Schneider and Tony Williams (Detriot: Wayne State UP, forthcoming 2004).

Petley, Julian. "'Snuffed out': Nightmares in a Trading Standards Officer's Brain." In Unruly Pleasures: The Cult Film and its Critics, ed. Graeme Harper and Xavier Mendik. Guildford: FAB Press, 2000. 204-219.

Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany: State University of New York P, 1997.

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