Screening Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts in a class focusing on Marxist theory somewhat demands a Marxist reading of the film. But fairness will be attempted.
Blood of the Beasts is much less a vegetarian propaganda film and much more a look at an industry disconnected from the society which and into which it feeds. Franju’s dissonance between the rather happy, but nevertheless postwar, life of sub/urban Paris is signified through a change in the voice of narration (from female to male), an abrupt shift/absence of music, and a transition from long shots to medium shots. Then, of course, there is the change in content. Another thing Franju doesn’t seem to be saying is that the work done in slaughterhouses is necessarily wrong. On the contrary, the animals are killed with utmost efficiency and (apparently) painlessness. The worst any of them undergoes is briefly getting pushed around prior to decapitation (which, I hear, is a pain-free experience).
Granted, watching these things on film (even if it is black and white) feels traumatic to one who is not accustomed to such sights. But whether this was Franju’s intent, it certainly attests to the point that there is a real disjoint between daily life, with all of its burgers and steaks, and the place where animals begin the transition to becoming burgers and steaks. In an interview, Franju firsthand confirms what the style of his film already told us: he went to pains to ensure that the film was a work of art. This was his chief goal. He insists that we wasn’t particularly interested in the subject of slaughterhouses, but he was intrigued by the provocative presence of a moat separating the slaughterhouse from the rest of the city. When some said that color photography would have enhanced Blood of the Beasts‘ effect on viewers, Franju insisted that color would have removed the art from the film and reduced it to shock-value. And while shock-value wasn’t Franju’s intent, clearly he was attempting to evoke an often emotional response from the viewer both through content and style. He did not position his camera, say, behind the horse as it was being slaughtered (“shot” in the head), only to show us the animal dropping to the ground. Rather, the camera is right on front to show the entire picture.
The presence, in particular, of the former French boxing champion employed at the slaughterhouse seemed intentionally drawn out by Franju. To be sure, he wasn’t the only worker to be mentioned, but Franju must have know that his background would be more interesting than the rest and therefore made a point of it. Is it too simplistic to wonder if the boxer isn’t another means of disassociating the slaughterhouse from a “normal” Parisian life? Sure, lots of people love boxing. But not many people actually box. Franju could be noticing a connection between two professions: one that is paid to beat on humans, another to kill animals.
The nuns are more interesting and seem to serve the film’s purpose better. Mostly shot from behind, they are identified in terms of their spiritual calling rather than as individuals per se. The nuns cross the boundary of the moat separating the slaughterhouse much in the same way as they would cross the line into diseased territory to witness to the sick and poor. They visit the slaughterhouse in order to obtain fat, an undesirable part of the animals that would otherwise presumably be discarded. Nuns have seemingly always been those that society sends to places it would otherwise prefer not to visit. Their presence at the slaughterhouse hammers home the point that this is a place that is truly “other” from the world to which it belongs. The fracture between production and consumption is a Marxist lament, and one that isn’t without merit. In (Marxist) theory, knowledge at least and participation at best would positively affect the exchange value of such commodities as these. Knowing the interior of a slaughterhouse would certainly cause some to abstain from meat, and perhaps it would cause others to appreciate a little better the nature and history behind a good steak.