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MURDER SEASON: CRIME-SOLVING PLANTS AND OTHER VEGETAL HORRORS

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Philosophical Research Society

3910 Los Feliz Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90027

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Like the human cadaver, every plant, tree, flower and fungus has a story to tell. But when it comes to how plants tell stories, there are essentially two schools of thought: In the 1970s it was a popular belief – aided by unorthodox experiments, the proliferation of New Age publications and the mass-marketing of Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird’s 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants – that, despite their lack of a nervous system, plants were sentient and emotional, and could communicate their feelings to humans with the help of electronic devices. Conversely, the scientific community found more practical ways of gleaning what plants had to tell us, through the examination of trace elements at crime scenes in the field of forensic botany.

Expanded from an article commissioned for Nicolas Winding Refn’s website ByNWR.com, instructor Kier-La Janisse's Murder Season takes a look at the ways that a disillusioned generation became obsessed with plants, not only in their homes and gardens as part of the burgeoning environmentalist and earth mysteries movements that summoned people back to their rural roots, but in laboratories and recording studios that aimed to document the ways plants experienced and witnessed the world around them and how they could communicate knowledge to us – whether imparting ancient wisdom or fingering a murderer. We’ll look at the influential studies of polygraph expert Cleve Backster and the early 20th century scientists who preceded him, the importation of Kirlian photography from behind the Iron Curtain and its subsequent championing at the UCLA Parapsychology Lab, and the more tangible ways that plants aid in solving crimes, from the trace elements found in poo-prints to the decomposing donors at The Body Farm.

We’ll also look at how vegetal anxiety manifested in horror literature and film, from the writings of Roald Dahl and Philip Jose Farmer to films like Day of the Triffids (1962), The Mutations (1974), The Gardener (1974), The Kirlian Witness (1979) and more.

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This class is held in conjunction with several city-wide events celebrating Sacred Bones Records’ re-release of Mort Garson’s classic 1976 electronic concept album, Mother Earth’s Plantasia. Other events in this series include Atlas Obscura’s Plantasia listening party at the UCLA Botanical Gardens on August 10th (https://www.atlasobscura.com/events/plantasia-at-ucla-botanical-garden-aug-2019) and UCLA Film & Television Archive’s screening of The Kirlian Witness (1979) at the The Velaslavasay Panorama Theatre and Gardens on August 25 (https://www.panoramaonview.org/).

About the Instructor:
Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Owner/Artistic Director of Spectacular Optical Publications and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005). She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017). She co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (2015), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017) and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (2017). She is currently co-curating (with Clint Enns) an anthology book on the films of Robert Downey, Sr., and writing A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: Children’s Programming and the Counterculture, 1965-1985, as well as monographs about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter and Patricia Birch’s Grease 2. She is also in development on a narrative television series based on her book House of Psychotic Women with Rook Films (Free Fire, Duke of Burgundy, A Field in England). She serves on the boards for both Fantastic Fest and the American Genre Film Archive.

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Philosophical Research Society

3910 Los Feliz Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90027

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