Precious Bodily Fluids

Blood of the Beasts

"Smile for the spiked hammer!"

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.

This entry was published on September 3, 2008 at 12:44 pm. It’s filed under 1940s Cinema, French Film and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Blood of the Beasts

  1. I sometimes feel that we have to disconnect ourselves from the origin of almost everything: our clothing made by starving children who work 16-hour days; our cell phones made with minerals mined by Congolese children; our diamond wedding rings from war-torn countries; nearly everything we use made in a way that is destructive to the environment.

    I mean, how do you live if you know about these things? It seems vital that we separate ourselves from the roar of the reality of our existence, or else our existence as we know it will disappear.

    But then again, the status quo is unsustainable, so we’re fucked either way. As Dave Letterman said this week, “It’s too late. We’re dead meat.” Just like the poor cows.

  2. I think there are three or four options: (1) Do nothing; “ignorance is bliss.” (2) Try to chisel away at the problem while still putting your main energy into a “normal’ life. (3) Start a revolution. (4) Kill yourself. Maybe there’s a fifth: adjust your thinking. Of course, trying to understand the nature of the problem (or whether there is one) can be the most dangerous option, because you end up essentially acknowledging a problem but do nothing about it. That one scares me.

    We’re up against something that’s rather huge, and I think it might be overly reductive to think we have a moral obligation NOT to purchase things like meat, jewelry, name-brand clothes, etc. Now, when people prefer not to buy those things with the goal of making a small statement and “doing their part,” that’s one thing. But as with most of the problems in the world, they’re quite a bit bigger and more complex than we give them credit for. I realize how fatalistic this sounds, but there have been countless revolutions over the last few thousand years, numerous good souls who have known there were problems with the world and tried to right them. What should frighten us most of all is the last 100 years: more blood shed than in any other 100-year period of history, easily, and with some of the best motives. And I’m not talking about animal blood.

    I think I’ve decided that harvesting meat from animals in a painless and humane manner is not fundamentally different from harvesting plants from the earth for food in a way that doesn’t damage the earth. Plants and animals are both alive, just in different ways. Just as the ability to feel pain isn’t what makes us human, I don’t think that the ability to feel pain (exclusively) sets animals apart from other kinds of life. Humans ought to know, however, that for them to live, other things have to die. “Life always comes at a cost,” as they say. It should be sobering to know that something has to lose its beauty for us to live.

  3. Stick a fork in me.


    Just came across this. I didn’t watch it, but it reminded me of this little convo.

  5. I read it – messed up. One continues to hear about these things. Not sure what compels people to be so sadistic. The only connection I think one can make between this news byte and the above film is that they both involve slaughterhouses. The reason why you would be disturbed by the film is actually that the slaughters occur so suddenly that neither the animal nor the viewer really sees it coming.

  6. posthuman on said:

    “I’ve decided that harvesting meat from animals in a painless and humane manner is not fundamentally different from harvesting plants from the earth for food in a way that doesn’t damage the earth.”

    It is fundamentally different on numerous biological, environmental and sentience-related levels. Unless one’s understanding of being a ‘living being’ is so broad to also say that harvesting meat from humans is not fundamentally different from harvesting plants.

    There is no such thing as humane slaughter any more than there is humane genocide. At least with ethnic cleansing we do not breed never ending generations to kill over and over again. If we don’t take the extremist anthropocentric view, nothing we have ever done to each other comes close to what we’ve done to other species.

    Unfortunately there is no way around the ugliest of truths – For humanity to sustain itself at current population levels requires completely immoral, verging on parasitic, agricultural practises. We’re not the lion eating the impala. We’re the parasite, the spreading virus living of the suffering of the trillions of hosts we breed, torture, eat, wear and discard.

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