Nº2 – JULY 2019
The Haunting ofThe Headless Woman
Catherine Grant, Professor of Digital Media and Screen Studies
Birkbeck, University of London
The character of Verónica, played by María Onetto in Lucrecia Martel’s film La mujer sin cabeza (2008, Argentina/France/Italy/Spain, known in Spain as La mujer rubia), is an iconic, if somewhat opaque protagonist. She can’t help but recall, for a cinephile viewer at least, a number of other striking, and often doomed, cinematic blondes who travel in cars, including Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo ; Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960); Nan Adams (Inger Stevens) in “The Hitch-Hiker,” episode sixteen of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone (1960, CBS. Episode directed by Alvin Ganzer); and perhaps even Cléo (Corrine Marchand) in Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962).
But Vero has an even more uncannily similar cinematic sister, her queer kin par excellence: Mary Henry, protagonist of Herk Harvey’s 1962 cult independent horror film Carnival of Souls. Mary, played by the equally, if not more, iconic Candace Hilligoss, is a church organist haunted by ghosts. In many ways, I argue, this character and other aspects of Harvey’s film haunt La mujer sin cabeza. But this is no secret haunting; it is part of a deliberate act of homage, both to B-movie horror in general as well as specifically to Carnival of Souls, as acknowledged, if not elaborated on in any detail, by Martel herself in an interview with Scott Foundas in 2008.
My video essay focuses on this conscious but profound act of intertextuality by exploring in detail the plane of meanings potentially lent to La mujer sin cabeza by its careful and highly subtle practices of allusion to the 1962 film, ones not solely based on similarity but also on divergence and variation. As always in my research on the recognition of cinematic interconnectedness, within the specific fields of transtextuality that Gérard Genette called “hypertextuality” and “intertextuality,” I adhere to the following quotation from the writing of Mikhail Iampolski: “The intertext constitutes meaning as the work involved in seeking it.”
The kind of labour, or quest, is particularly rewarding, I have argued, when undertaken through audiovisual mediation, that is, worked through in the same basic form as that of the original films. Working sensuously, temporally, graphically, as well as cognitively and verbally can help to generate a very powerful and persuasive moment by moment understanding of the political and affective subtleties of Martel’s filmmaking. This kind of unfolding research can thus add to and complement, in compelling ways, the wide array of written studies of the Argentine filmmaker’s oeuvre, including those which have focused on the related questions surrounding the representation of a “machinery of denial” in La mujer sin cabeza.
 Martel said: “[La mujer sin cabeza] en particular tiene un cierto hermanazgo con Carnival of Souls.” In the Q&A documentary with Scott Foundas, featured on the 2010 Strand Releasing DVD of La mujer sin cabeza. This was simply the starting point for my analysis: I am interested in how, not whether, Carnival of Souls is an intertext at work in Martel’s 2008 film.
 Gérard Genette, Palimpsestes: Literature in the Second Degree (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press,1992), 83-84.
 Mikhail Iampolski, The Memory of Tiresias: Intertextuality and Film (Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 1998), 47.
 In several earlier articles, I have set out the advantages of audiovisual analytic and compositional practices in the investigation of intertextuality and cinematic allusionism. With their precise juxtapositions of film material, which unfold in real space and time, video essays, or assemblages, like the one above, can introduce us to the “unconscious optics” of particular instances of intertextuality, allowing us not just to know about these, but also to experience them, powerfully, sensually, in this and other cases in my work, through an affectively charged morphing aesthetic. See Catherine Grant, “Déjà viewing?: videographic experiments in intertextual film studies,” Mediascape : UCLA’s Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Winter 2013. Online at: http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Winter2013_DejaViewing.html, translated into Italian ‘Déjà viewing’, Filmidée, 7, March 2013. Online at: https://www.filmidee.it/2013/05/deja-viewing/; and Catherine Grant, “The Marriages of Laurel Dallas. Or, The Maternal Melodrama of the Unknown Feminist Film Spectator’, Mediascape: UCLA’s Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Fall 2014. Online at: http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Fall2014_MarriagesMelodrama.html, translated into Spanish by Cristina Álvarez López, ‘Las bodas de Laurel Dallas. O el melodrama materno de una espectadora feminista desconocida’, Transit. Cine y otros desvíos, January, 2015. Online at: http://cinentransit.com/las-bodas-de-laurel-dallas/.
 I am indebted to, specifically, two ground-breaking works on La mujer sin cabeza: Cecilia Sosa, ‘A Counter-narrative of Argentine Mourning: The Headless Woman (2008), directed by Lucrecia Martel’, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 26, Nos, 7-8, 2009 (Sosa coined the phrase “machinery of denial” in relation to Martel’s work); and especially Deborah Martin, The Cinema of Lucrecia Martel (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016).
Special thanks to the participants and attendees at the 2011 annual Contemporary Director’s Symposium, held at the University of Sussex, UK––including (among others) Deborah Martin, Cecilia Sosa, Joanna Page, Dolores Tierney, Jens Andermann and Rosalind Galt––the first audience for a screening of the much longer and incomplete early version of this videographic research. Thanks also to the many individuals and audiences who have watched this work evolve over the years since, including, for their valuable reflections, Kevin B. Lee, Jaap Kooijman, Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell, Ethan Murphy, and other participants in the 2015 and 2018 National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshops on Videographic Criticism, Middlebury College, USA. Thanks, too, to José Sarmiento Hinojosa for curating this video in his programmes for the following festivals: MUTA-Festival de Cine de Apropiación Audiovisual, Lima, 2018, and ULTRACinema, México, and Cámara Lucida, Ecuador, 2019. Warm thanks also to Cristina Álvarez López for her wonderful translation work and supportive reflections on the work.