"HOSTEL"ity Towards Romanticism

JoeM's picture
Submitted by JoeM on Wed, 2006-04-19 23:59

In the "Bootleg Romanticism" chapter of THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO, Ayn Rand writes:
"The composite picture of man that emerges from the art of our time is the gigantic figure of an aborted embryo whose limbs suggest a vaguely anthropoid shape, who twists his upper extremity in a frantic quest for a light that cannot penetrate its empty sockets, who emits inarticulate sounds resembling snarls and moans, who crawls through a bloody muck, red froth dripping from his jaws, and struggles to throw the froth at his own non-existant face, who pauses periodically and, lifting the stumps of his arms, screams in abysmal terror at the universe at large."

Nathaniel Branden expressed his uneasiness over this passage, claiming that Rand went overboard in this depiction. But has she? This was written in the Sixties. If it was overboard then, then it's certainly justified in our time. Just released this week on DVD is the Eli Roth movie HOSTEL, which is a perfect example of what Rand was writing about.

Consider this summary from Amazon.com:
"Well-made for the genre--the excessive-skin-displayed-before-gruesome-bloody-torture-begins genre--Hostel follows two randy Americans...and an even randier Icelander as they trek to Slovakia, where they're told beautiful girls will have sex with anyone with an American accent. Unfortunately, the girls will also sell young Americans to a company that offers victims to anyone who will pay to torture and murder. To his credit, writer/director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) takes his time setting things up, laying a realistic foundation that makes the inevitable spilling of much blood all the more gruesome. The sardonic joke, of course, is that Americans are worth the most in this brothel of blood because everyone else in the world wants to take revenge upon them. This dark humor and political subtext help set Hostel above its more brainless sadistic compatriots, like House of Wax or The Devil's Rejects. In general, though, there's something lacking; horror used to suggest some threat to the spirit--today's horror can conceive of nothing more troubling than torturing the flesh. "

At least the synopsis pays lip service to the idea of the spirit as something worth protecting, but as Rand wrote of horror movies, "popular literature, more honest in this respect, presents its horrors in the form of physical monstrosities. In 'serious' literature, the horrors become psychological and bear less resemblence to anything human; this is the literary cult of depravity."

And a cult of depravity there is. The first reviewer listed on Amazon.com for HOSTEL gives the film three stars, the headline proclaiming the film "Dark, nihilistic, misogynistic...but somewhat flawed." Not flawed for choosing to portray these traits as an end in themselves, but for not going far enough. "One thing that I wanted Roth to do which he seemed to have pulled back from was going all-out in presenting Hostel as a horror exploitation film. This film tries to emulate the gory exploitation Italian and American films of the mid-70's to early 80's. Maybe the MPAA had forced Roth to trim certain scenes to get an R-rating. In certain scenes one could almost feel and sense that something was left out."

Consider the above in relation to a recent post of Rand's vision of the past by Lindsay Perigo on the Romantic Manifesto thread here :

""In regard to Romanticism, I have often thought that I am a bridge from the unidentified past to the future. As a child I saw a glimpse of the pre-World War 1 world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history ... Its art projected an overwhelming sense of intellectual freedom, of depth, i.e., concern with fundamental problems, of demanding standards, of inexhaustible originality, of unlimited possibilities and, above all, profound respect for man. The existential atmosphere ... still held a benevolence that would be incredible to the men of today, i.e., a smiling, confident good will of man to man, and of man to life. ... It is impossible for the young people of today to grasp the reality of man's higher potential and what scale of achievement it had reached in a rational (or semi-rational) culture. But I have seen it. I know that it was real, that it existed, that it is possible. It is that knowledge that I want to hold up to the sight of men ... before the barbarian curtain descends altogether. ... I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye-sockets [see any modern-day music video—Linz], who perform, in stinking basements, the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle—and to the quavering witch doctors who call it art. Our day has no art and no future. ... Will we see an esthetic Renaissance in our time? I do not know. What I do know is this: anyone who fights for the future lives in it today."

Linz is absolutely right to proclaim that the Romantic Manifesto is "a rescue-reinstate-&-renew mission. It's a declaration of war on contemporary nihilism in the name of that cultural radiance of yore &, hopefully, of the future which is ours to win." And if Nathaniel Branden STILL thinks that Rand was over the top, I'll be glad to send him a copy of HOSTEL for him to enjoy.

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Very astute

Landon Erp's picture

Very astute observation.


It all basically comes back to fight or flight.

I am a fan of well done

John M Newnham's picture

I am a fan of well done horror. Hostel was gruesome no doubt, but thats all. It is typical of whats being currently celebrated in the 'Wood. Now horror *can* be well done in the romantic realist sense, or can be injected into other genres in small doses for a counterpoint effect.

Shyamalan, Hitchcock, even the schlocky campy Romero all understood the gengre. I don't think Roth has a clue (see his prior films for evidence), but then again who am I?

There is nothing like the slow build up, and realization from audience or reader, that something bad is about to happen, or has happened.

Joe you are right on target with this. The Romantic Manifesto is indeed the antidote and is timeless.


William, the first reference

JoeM's picture

William, the first reference is on page 130. Not sure where the second passage is.

Grisly stupid movies

wsscherk's picture

I do agree that schlock is schlock, and that heartless, thuggish schlock is the worst -- still, going with the spirit of Joe's notes, and taking heed of the spirit of his quotation -- how about the Irish/British iconoclast Francis Bacon (supposedly a horrid drunken homo beast; here below one of those Innocent canvases of his, worth psychotic stinkloads of money)?

I'm wondering about a present day take on Bacon: in the "Bootleg Romanticism" bit** Rand seems to this tin ear to be describing his popes and his portraits.

I'd love to hear somebody here tear into Bacon, who was Rand's contemporary (the canvas below from 1955) -- although like Rand his fortune and renown came late in life (he expired in 1992 aged 81, leaving what seemed to me to be a shocking estate of 36 million smackers).

From the WebMuseum

Fans of Bacon also see a great set of Bacon from Pintura (with all 264 of their collection!).

Extreme Bacon enthusiasts see the whole nightmarish procession of the screaming popes at francis-bacon.cx. Not for the faint-hearted, strong meat for those who relish Grand Guignol . . .


**yo, Joe, how 'bout a page number, brother? I gotta go look up the context, eh?

PS - revealing coda to interview with Bacon, from a bio page on the big-ass Bacon website cited above:

In conversation, August 13, 1973

Francis Giacobetti: Is death an obsession with you?
Francis Bacon: Yes, terrible. Once when I was 15 or 16 years old I saw a dog peeing and I realised at that moment that I was going to die. I think there is an equally important difficulty in man's life. The moment when you discover that youth does not last for ever. I understood it that day. I thought about death and since then I have thought about it every day.

Even as old as I am, it doesn't stop me from looking at men...as if anything might happen, as if life were about to start again; often when I go out in the evening I flirt as if I were only 50. We ought to be able to change our engines. This is the artist’s privilege—to be ageless. Passion keeps you young, and passion and liberty are so seductive. When I paint I am ageless, I just have the pleasure or the difficulty of painting.

FG: How would you like to die?

FB: Fast.

PPS - WARNING: diehards only beyond this point, a gushing Time review from 1985 on the occasion of Bacon's retrospective at the Tate, here excerpted:


"The usual evolution of major artists in old age, whereby they
become cosily grand paternal figures, patting their juniors on the back and reminiscing
in autumnal mellowness about their dead coevals, has not happened to Bacon, who is apt to
dismiss nearly everything painted in the 20th century with bleak contempt ["Fashion"].
He has gone on record as admiring Giacommetti and Picasso; for a few others, a few words of
respect; beyond that, the sense of isolation is ferocious. The motto of an aristocratic
French family declared: ''Roi ne puis, prince ne daigne, Rohan je suis'' (King I cannot be;
prince I do not deign to be; I am a Rohan). Shift the context and you have the epitome of
Bacon's own view of his place in 20th century art."

Robert Hughes
Time Magazine

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