To celebrate the recent publication of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow, author Samantha Bennett will be guest-blogging all week.
Today, she explores the influences that film maudit had on Siouxsie and the Banshees’ music.
Taken literally, the term film maudit means ‘cursed’ film, often one that exists on the fringes of the film industry. Perhaps panned by critics, bombed at the box office or otherwise poorly received, film maudit includes films later revisited, then canonized as ‘cult classics’. Most of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ film influences were drawn from film maudit: Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960), Frank Perry’s The Swimmer (1968), Brian Forbes’ The Stepford Wives (1975) and Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka (1983) are just a few examples that had lasting influence on the band. The themes, imagery and score present in these films crop up throughout Peepshow, as well as Siouxsie and the Banshees’ wider repertoire.
Example: Forbes’ The Stepford Wives is a cult classic with strong feminist, post-human and dystopian themes. It also deals with suburban neuroses – a topic integral to the Siouxsie and the Banshees aesthetic. This scene features Michael Small’s unnerving, experimental score as it dramatizes Joanna’s horror at Bobbie’s automaton [re]incarnation and malfunction.
Film maudit may also refer to paracinematic films, those existing on the periphery of mainstream cinema: B movies, pornography, the experimental and avant-garde, snuff movies, as well as surrealist films drawing heavily from fine art. As film theorist Joan Hawkins put it, such films ‘often handle explosive social material that mainstream cinema is reluctant to touch’. Siouxsie and the Banshees were heavily influenced by surrealist paracinema, particularly films by Buñuel/Dalí, which subverted linear narratives with fragmented, disruptive and often horrific imagery.
Example: Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou featuring the iconic ‘eyeball’ scene. This film was a huge influence on Siouxsie and the Banshees and was strongly alluded to in Polydor’s Peepshow press release, which featured a close-up shot of Sioux’s eye.
When listening to Peepshow, the influence of surrealist film and literature is perhaps more prominent than in any other Siouxsie and the Banshees record. As it traverses ancient and modern histories and mythologies, jumps back-and-forth through seasons, uses past and present tenses and even features backwards and forwards performed orchestration, Peepshow bears all the hallmarks of the disruptive temporalities so inherent to surrealist paracinema. With its bizarre and often agenda-ambiguous protagonists, Peepshow may also be read as a reflection of the influence of Lewis Carroll’s surrealist classic Alice in Wonderland on the band’s aesthetic. In 1984, three years before the recording of Peepshow, Siouxsie and the Banshees made a documentary for a Channel 4 TV series ‘Play at Home’. This hour-long film featuring music from the band – as well as Sioux and Budgie’s ‘The Creatures’ and Severin and Smith’s ‘The Glove’ – encapsulates their surrealist aesthetic as they situate their music in the context of an Alice in Wonderland homage.