Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Friday, February 12, 2016


Maybe it's an age thing (I've never been this old before, I don't recommend it) but as I careen inexorably towards my half-century mile post I'm blessed with a progressively terrible memory, a cold disinterest in romance, and hence a love of old black and white mysteries. I can watch them over and over as I forget 'who done it' almost before the credits even roll, allowing for cycling through my entire collection every year or so. I love mysteries because they offer heroes who are always a few steps ahead of me rather than three behind, which I find nerve-wracking and annoying. Charlie Chan sees right through every ruse, so I can relax my angst when he's on the scene. Invariably, my binge starts with either The Black Camel or Charlie Chan in Egypt, two beautiful early 30s pics free of #1 or #2 sons, and laden with great art deco design and--in Egypt's case--my dream doorway divide (if I can ever afford an interior designer, this is the room entrance I want, left)

First up on this list three films 1935 I got over Xmas on DVD-Rs from the WB Archive. The first year when the code was all the way slammed down on freedom of expression in Hollywood, Warner Bros, whose name was as synonymous with the suddenly verboten tough talking gangster pictures and vivid social criticism turned. Smartly, they turned to mysteries, a relatively chaste reconfiguration of hands coming out of walls, trapdoors, tossed knives, secret panels, wise guy reporters, murky red herring line-ups, windswept dark mansions, dimwit cops, and bits of string, stray buttons, and tossed knives. As long as the killer was punished or caught at the end, censors said go for it. A built-in audience of mystery buffs was well versed, and the popularity of novels at the dimestore and via mystery sections and some tie-in seen in credits called 'The Clue Club.' What I like about them I think is that they open--usually--with a very dislikable person getting murdered. We seem them being mean to as many people as possible so when they die we feel nor remorse or anger and the suspects are legion. Their death allows the young lovers to finally marry, the one decent girl in the family to inherit the millions, and the butler to be free of his master's indifference. And since there's absolutely no bearing to my own life, I don't feel disagreeable angst or collective guilt, or trauma (as I might watching something like ripped from today's headlines like Law and Order). When you're as sensitive as an Usher, it helps your nerves to see the bad guys die in the library with the candlestick, and to not know who dunnit, and to forget as soon as the credits roll... forget...

(1935) Dir. George B. Seitz
A kind of silver and velvet (and lovely lighting) post-code preparation for film noir; its eye on procedural aspects and weird floating acting style; actors hesitantly remembering their lines through thick hungover atmosphere, making sure they're heard with the early sound equipment (was the director German? Sound equipment was fine by 1935 so why the 1929 enunciation?)

Once again the weird Ricardo Cortez seems strangely artificial, his silken voice seeming insincere and sincere at the same time, making him perfect as the enigmatic alleged good guy. When he jokes about having killed his sleazy rival Haworth it registers as very bad taste and unfunny. Are we supposed to think he's demonstrating elan and laugh or get a skeeve in our blood? Does acting a little guilty make him not guilty? That's a tricky line to walk, you silken vaguely skeezy fellow! Cortez doesn't always pass the drunk test, in that respect. Luckily, his weird relationship with his rich dowager aunt (Constance Collier - whom I've always found strangely sexy), a recluse who built a theater in her attic, seems hinged in this moral twilight, does she approve of him or not? He revels in her dubious affection, and it's a great rapport, a clear love between them that expresses itself through constant jabs and parries.

By contrast, the reasoning behind Virginia Bruce's grouchy impulsive decision to marry the sleazy abusive alcoholic filthy rich Haworth (Bradley Page), a kind JJ Huensecker meets Stage Door Adolphe Menjou type, is poorly etched out. Is she just hungover and vindictive, latching onto a guy with a terrible rep for beating up women, a creepy almost Bataille(1) kind of masochism? Or is just to really stick the knife in Cortez and twist it, making Cortez the masochist? Sorry, no, this ain't Von Sternberg and Dietrich. It seems folded in just to make a larger roster of suspects when Howarth is bumped off.

Regis Toomey is on hand as the PR guy who fills in the missing story threads, and the array of involvement in the shadiness with which the butlers of both Howarth and the rich dowager aunt conceal long histories before the code witnessing strange things and keeping mum. Collier is great, acting as a kind of de facto Miss Marple, though as soon as she believes Bruces' sobbing she's all up on her side, even to the extent of hiding the murder gun from the cops (in a great twist she even tells him she has the gun in the plate she hands him under a wet towel while the boys search the apartment).

Once the murder happens the pool of suspects starts immediately shrinking and for most of us the killer will be recognized almost immediately, but hey, it's the mood that counts, and if the film can offer moments we haven't seen before along the way and avoid the bad things, like the tedious inclusion in the post-code era of the fiancee who's a drag and wants our hero to settle down to the picket fence and stop mystery solving, like that's somehow what we want to see, we who love Nora Charles like a holy relic..  Seitz makes sure the velvet ripples and purrs and the burdensome whiny fiancee never obscurants.

(1935) Dir Alan Crosland
Based on a novel by mystery writin' dame Mignon G. Eberhart, this plays like a chapter serial mystery story, or even Tarantino's recent Hateful Eight, set at a windy hotel along the French coast, full of weird statues and secrets (and titular cock), and no one is who they claim to be, and everyone scheming to some nefarious inheritance fraud. Meanwhile the white cockatoo mascot of the hotel squawks, the French police come and arrest the wrong person on occasion, and the ever ambiguous Ricardo Cortez and the always lovely gamin Jean Muir alternately fall in love, suspect each other of murder, and withhold truths that could end the film post haste. A bit like a 1930s predecessor to Donen's Charade, millions are at stake, and no one is who they seem to be.

Despite the great gloomy windswept atmosphere I'm actually not a big fan of this one, due to my intense dislike of curly haired men with loud accents, and when it comes to mysteries I'd rather have a hero who can actually think one step ahead of me, rather than lag reels behind while heroines are endangered by networks of Wilkie Collins-esque villainy. Even worse is when said heroine lets him go to jail rather than supply his alibi just so they don't find out he was in her room after dark, not that they'd care in France, you ridiculous uptight stupid American a-person! But Muir's pale innocence is always a feast for the eyes and there's Warner Brothers stock regular Ruth Donnelly as --what else?-- a persnickety tourist, so as long as you don't-a mind curly oily haired hoteliers and thick-headed imbeciles posing as cops, lawyers, and millionaires... ah, screw it.

(1935) Dir. Ray Enright

It's a dark and stormy night and a flock of greedy sinister spoiled relatives are clustering around an ill banker at his gloomy mansion, waiting to get their chance to talk to him and prove they're worthy of --presumably--inheritance consideration. Then he gets a telegram from his absentee son--or one of them--and has a stroke while clutching a figure of an elephant! Mystery! Aline MacMahon looking dowdy as hell (was she possibly pregnant, or padded?) is the sent-for night nurse. That night there's a shot in the dark. Bang Bang! The elephant is dropped by the side of a dead man! Wasn't there a movie like this called... Miss Pinkerton? Perhaps, and it was probably better. But this ain't bad, sweetheart. Even if it ain't no Night Nurse. 

So now you know the pros: atmosphere and McMahon. The drawbacks hinge on the overbearing broadness of the cops, especially the obnoxious incompetence from Kibbee's debuty, the ever-present Warner stock dingus Allen Jenkins, who accuses everyone of lying and shouts in a lot of faces, making the Ritz Brothers seem a model of restraint. I always wonder about actors who shout every line they speak. Are they drunk and forgot they're in a movie and not a play? It's very disconcerting,  for example, when Chan's #2 son shouts confidential information at his dad from one foot away, loud enough for even the neighbors downstairs to hear even if they're not intentionally eavesdropping. I usually like Jenkins and Guy Kibbee (he's the chief), but here they seem to think the key to solving the mystery is to force everyone to remain in the house and then lope around in the direction of screams and thumps allowing for evidence to be stolen, butlers to be murdered and nurses to be locked in secret passage attics, and then for the killer to have plenty of room to scram back into the general population long before they cease bumbling long enough and arrive. While Jenkins shouts at a bookcase and tries to handcuff a coatrack (practically), the nurse is told to hold onto all the accumulated evidence like she's the only one with a purse sneaking snacks into the movies. That ceramic elephant is placed in her hands a dozen times, allowing for c-c-c-creepy scenes of hands reaching out for it, looking all around but behind her as she backs up to where the killer hides behind curtains. Like I said above, I like there to be at least one non-idiot around in a mystery. No such luck here, alas.

The DV-R looks great, fans of these things won't mind the constant film pocks and damage (no visible splices) in order to get a clean image that brings out the old dark house atmosphere to a T. Though I don't like the old man keeps a dog chained up in front of the house in the pouring rain, or the haphazard dumping of a plethora of suspects and clues through our porous laps, which we presume (this being an entry in Warner's "Clue Club" mystery series, whatever that means) we're supposed to be keeping straight in our head as they tumble through the cycles of evidence planting, red herring reversal, and petty squabbling. The Vitaphone stock suspects include Lyle Talbot, Robert Barrat, Patricia Ellis (as the one good girl), Brandon Hurst as a butler with a rap sheet, and so forth.

On the plus side, the good-natured razzing that nurse Aline lobs constantly at Kibbee is pretty cute and they make a potentially great little crime team. All in all it's no classic and as a mystery falls apart under close scrutiny (it's based on another Mignon Eberhart novel, and perhaps they try to cram too many novelistic details into the fairly short running time), but in general it's atmospheric, wry, and innocuous enough I can see folding it into my old dark house / mystery phase repertoire. If you're the weird type like me who considers the 1930s craze for rattling of sheet metal thunder, and old dark staircase, secret panels, shady lawyers and master sleuths etc. a solace, a retreat from the overwhelming mendacity of our age, then fold it in, brother, sister, alien, fold it. Just don't fold it too often, or while hungover, for it is not sturdy.

(1939) Dir. Allan Dwan
Patsy Kelly overdoing it as a scared maid, howling out plaintively towards the cheap seats, the three triplet Ritz Brothers oscillating panic like a w-w-w-wave: these are pretty big minuses in my book (and my old dark house films are literally in a big book), but Bela Lugosi as an "armed" servant; Lionel Atwill as the industrialist threatened with murder at midnight; the ever-gamin Anita Louise as the endangered heiress; dark shadowy lighting and constant thunder; the creeping hairy arm of an escaped gorilla and/or disguised killer; the all-in-a-single-night time frame--all compensate amply.

If you could clip 75% of the Ritz shenanigans (they're so stupid they could be looking at a quarter on the floor then blink and wonder where it went, even though it's still th-th-there) and 80% of Patsy Kelly's broad shrill business, there might be a damn good old dark house mystery rolling merrily along between the Cat and the Canary pinball bumpers. Even Joseph Callea shows up, ducking in and out of secret passages and occasionally punching out a Ritz (and there was much rejoicing). If Lugosi, in the midst of a red herring butler/handyman phase in his career, gets little to do than glower from the sidelines, calmly offering poison tea to the the comic relief (they don't drink it, alas), ala Night Monster, the 1941 Black Cat, or One Body too Many, he at least gets to scare Jean with his coat ala weird foreshadowing to his coat strangling habit in 1941's Invisible Ghost, and the camera leans back to linger mightily whenever he's around, a lingering he takes advantage of to make this the best of his red herring butler roles. So dig the works: Bela, Callea and Atwill, a sufficient triad to counter the obnoxious blue collar moron-4-the-kiddies nyuks of the Ritzes  and Kelly. The cherry that tips the balance: Anita Louise, cuter than ever, so what the hell, go for it, sez I. And try to get the OOP Roan disc for the best quality, as it's public domain, so no doubt avail. everywhere in various states of blur.

(1935) - Dir. Walter Forde
The typical Bulldog Drummond movie is rather incessantly British, bloodless (the reverse of ours, their censors don't mind blasphemy and saucy bits, but they faint at the sight of blood) and a sly reminder that when the Brits try to do farce it comes off rather heavy-handed. They have their whole own bag of tittering Hugh Herberts, Andy Devines, Stu Erwins, Eddie Brakens, Jackie Oakies and Patsy Kellys. But Jack stars an exception to the usual tired formula, as the massively chinned British fellow Jack Hulburt takes over a case from a wounded Drummond, the endangered lovely (Fay Wray) and her kidnapped father. I like this one way better than the usual series entries, which are marred by an annoying fiancee always at him to stop running around saving England instead of gazing tepidly into her limpid pools. What's up with fiancees in mystery series who want their man to settle down? Is it the censor or the producer who think we go to these films to watch a man stop all his adventure and go into the tea business with Uncle John or whatever the pouncey-flouncey colonel's daughter expects in Gunga Din? At any rate, Fay Wray is light years away from that trite nonsense. And Hurlburt got no strings.

The moody, highly atmospheric cinematography and robust performances make this an edge-of-your seater all the way: Ralph Richardson has a field day as the florid villain, and there are a load of trap doors and secret panels and it all ends with a thrilling chase up and down a closed station in the London underground that opens up into a dark elaborately statue and relic-filled British Museum (top), allowing for much sneaking and relic smashing, and there's a cool giant multi-armed Indian statuary to climb on and sneak behind (top). The Netflix streaming print I saw was smashing and the comedy and suspense are expertly blended to the point I felt high afterwards. And hey, it's streaming on Amazon Prime. Man, are you lucky.

"What does physical eroticism signify if not a violation of the very being of its practitioners? — a violation bordering on death, bordering on murder?" - Batailles, Eroticism

Saturday, February 06, 2016


It's been a long time since there could be Hollywood women characters as cool as the Babes of pre and post-Nazi Germany. Does it take economic turmoil to make dames so tough it carries over into their DNA? Or was it always there, this iron clad-but-sexually-vigorous blonde bombshell type is a bear in the courtroom, a bore in the kitchen (all that flavorless burnt potato pancakes and stone dry roast) and what would Americans would call, how you say, a slut? In the bedroom? That is to say, in America we have a dichotomy - if a lady is good in business she has to be a cold bitch barking and ripping people's heads off, or if she's sexually active, she's a dimwit with wide baby eyes agog at the world, easily seduced and abandoned, a victim of exploitation and the male gaze. But German women can be professional in the workplace without being neurotic. Without sacrificing her sanity or making the men around her feel like they lose their balls in her presence, the German woman is fully both sensually alive and ruthlessly cool-headed, a thorough professional.

You can argue maybe America need a war  that killed millions of young men and left their hot wives destitute during a Great Depression (prostituting to survive) or War (pressed into jobs normally occupied by men) in order to create the perfect storm for the Weimar cabaret of Brecht's wry economic savvy and Weil's woozy drinking songs and promiscuity's syphilitic ennui, something to forge the Germanic woman in a cast-iron mode where sex and mountain climbing carry the same lack of shame and guilt, a land where a pack of cigarettes or tea is more precious than mere money.

Weimar, a wellspring of decadence wherein former gorgeous tall willowy aristocrats took to the stage just to feed their food and shelter addiction. Weimar, when a cold winter made coal and firewood as as costly to one's sense of moral decency as a $300 a day heroin habit would to a junky.

There is no admittance in Hollywood or in our PC putsch climate that at the core of it all, the whole sex and dying in high society bootstrap, the shit's just fucked up. And without that admittance we cannot evolve. We're still asleep. Nothing like being bombed nightly to wake you up into the moment. And unless you're awake you can't be neither whore nor virgin but able to oscillate constantly between. Only the pre-code heroine, rising from the shackles of small town hypocritical sexism, knew the moment's intricate playful contours here in the US, and even then she had to be reshackled from 1934 until the second war, when noir would begin to free her (on certain conditions). That's just four lousy years.

But all the while the German dolls had no need for morals and so they knew when to pull the plug on their dying moms, and their confidence was earth-shattering. They didn't need layers of security, they could just blind us with aggressive charm, didn't need a fade to black to convincingly seduce us. Stalking around the room, selling $20 apples, knowing just when to fall into their john's arms, only to whirl out again a moment later and ask for a light, to keep the push and pull fluid, these dames reintroduced a state of play to the proceedings Americans had forgotten all about. Our modern maidens cannot do this now, there's too much at stake and not enough. There's no more danger, the rate of exchange is set, with a thousand intervening pimp handouts between the girl and the guy. Now a girl can't go from murdering her pimp father to seducing her way up the company ladder to happily ever to into the harrowing void of genuine openness like Babs Stanwyck could in Baby Face (1933).
Today we need female characters who are not prostitutes in the sense of today, where they're brutalized victims of white slavery in tense Liam Neeson thrillers, but crafty capitalists moving fluidly between roles--adventuress, gold-digger, a spy, a hungry urchin, and a genuine romantic partner--unswayed by a man's charisma past the point of their influence and bankroll, but that bankroll is fluid, the money paid rising and falling like stocks in a volatile market. Seduction is boiled down to its essentials until even being nice to a lonely guy for more than a 20% tip on a rainy night carries the metallic ring of coins continually hitting the bottom of a tin bucket.

The only badass German chick I've seen on an American screen lately (they're all over in German of course, hier und hier) has been Nina Hoss (below left) as Astrid, the super cool BND op in the most recent season of Homeland. We can glean a tad of the corrosive sexism of America via the description of her character on Wikipedia:

"Astrid, Quinn's former lover who works for the German intelligence service, BND.
Harmless enough - but deconstruct it and you see how American sexism is encoded: Astrid is basically the Carrie Mathison of Germany, but cooler, less neurotic, it's a parallel drawn many times in their similar look, dress style, and penchant for quick thinking that leaves most men in the dust. Yet as far Wiki is concerned, all that comes second to her on again/off again fling with the (white male) American, Quinn. And she's not a spearheading official of endless clout and resources, she just "works for the German intelligence service." That could mean she's a frickin' secretary. It's like if Carrie Mathison was described as "Brody's lover, who pins pictures on bulletin boards when CIA men tell her to."

Am I exaggerating? None of your business!

Luckily we have that that 1929-33 golden age, when Germany and America alike suffered the throes of the Great Depression and America came over to Germany on the cheap as sex tourist talent scouts, saw the silent films and avant garde dance performances and signed all the best players, the best directors who brought over their whole crews, and Marlene Dietrich was there too. The makers of Caligari, Faust and Mabuse, M, Pandora's Box, and Metropolis hopped a zeppelin to Lakehurst, NJ and then the train to Hollywood, toting their expressionistic haunted house nightmares, where the dark comforting shadows one hoped to hide in turned out to be two-dimensional painted backdrops and the girl you sold your soul to be with turned out to be an evil automaton. Provincial morality was revealed as an indulgence of the prosperous and uneducated, usually played by fat ugly actors like Emil Jannings. Their eyes and white hair wild like they'd clutched a freshly lightning-struck harpoon, they stayed in Germany. Perfectly cast apparently, they took to fascism like a duck to water.

Emil Jannings and Josef Goebbels
If you've ever gone hungry, or had the DTs, or even a really bad fever, then you know how easily the artifice of civilization and language can be wiped away, like a Photoshop layer, revealing the true dimension below, the permanent bedrock of demonic devouring darkness that infuses everything around you. It's terrifying to behold, will make your pray for the first time in years, pleading for heavenly rescue, or it will drive you insane with terror OR you can dissolve your egoic crux in the acid bath of Hell so that the you who remains no longer winces when the devil's lash strikes, because you have no more skin, and so the devil lashes you no more, for his strength is gone, the fuel of your fear no longer feeds his fire. And lo, the artifice layer of civilization still hasn't returned, you're still hungry but the DTs break, the fever dies off, but you're free, you can see the world as it really is, without wincing. This is why artists to be worth a damn they need to be crazy, starving, tortured.

And isn't the moral crusader really one who is so afraid of that hell dimension they have to keep setting up stricter and more repressive Photoshop layers against it, presuming with tight enough restrictions the Rockwell layer can fuse irrevocably with the hellish real, so that the demonic ne'er can be found again? The American moral woman of post-code era was, like the Temperance League broads before her, of the staunch belief this could be achieved, reflecting her terror of the void, a terror those of us who've seen and been devoured by the horror don't share. It's the terror of the guilty, those afraid of holy judgment. They play up their piety for a reason.

The German women though, aren't afraid of the hellish dimension. They've collectively lived through it twice. They know if they just roll with it they don't have to feel bad about themselves. They might even get some chocolate out of the deal, which they can sell on the black market for nylons, or cigarettes, or vice versa.              

The Women in the workplace revolution wouldn't even have happened to the extent it has if not for Hitler or that women got the vote as soon as they did because WWI dragged the nation out of the 19th century too fast for its draggy hegemonically provincial back half to retard progress, and that the Depression made prostitutes of soldier's widows, and it made gold diggers out of even once-pure mothers and daughters, just to get some ear medicine for their sick child (as in Call Her Savage). And into this world of mercenary women and dead soldiers slunk enigmatic beauties, rising and falling along the economic ladder, sometimes three or four rises and falls in a film, for if they were beautiful and clever it was never in doubt they'd sleep their way up. And they wouldn't need to suffer to become saintly; they'd just sacrifice their claims to motherhood so their son could become D.A. even if it meant he had to send her to the gallows to do it, or at any rate they'd toss away their fortunes to follow some drippy dude into the poor house just to torture us in our masochistic jealous frenzy. And then he'd sell her into white slavery to pay his gambling debts, and soon she'd be heading for the river, only to be swooped down on and carried up and up once more by Cary Grant, or at least to land where they started, so wise, or to plummet blindly back to earth with a crash and art deco memorial (like Christopher Strong).

Prostitution could be slimy and violent but there were degrees, and the pre-code films are all about that. You can get all indignantly feminist you want but you'll never convince me that Barbara Stanwyck is being used by the men she climbs the ladder on in Baby Face (1933). The men are perceived as hopelessly weak, easy prey. If she was merely a prostitute she'd presumably have a tougher time, but she's not, and it's this in-between status that seems to be the order of the day. The diamond bracelet is invariably worth more than a mere engagement ring. In order to keep a mistress one needs the kind of wealth where the bracelets and furs can flow without embezzling or robbery needed to fund them. Man, I'd never want or be to able to afford keeping a mistress in luxury, so am grateful to grow up in this more permissive time. But that's the bizarre thing about it, after the feminine sexual awakening of the 70s, and the bachelor pad Playboy subscription backdraft, comes the feel-bad post-90s PC clampdown, the provincial morality, the return of women as helpless Blanche Dubois rushing to the PC stasi over a single patriarchal leer all while demanding equality, doubling the workforce and halving the salary. Returning to the Weimar era and Hollywood's pre-code period it's easy to see just how much power women really do wield in the patriarchy - presuming of course, they know how to use men rather than be used by them, or both. After all, as Phoebe Cates says in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "it's just sex." Was she the last American girl to ever say that in a movie?

In our clamped-down PC climate, it's a revolutionary stance, a refusal to play the PC militant feminist game. And isn't it a game? Are bitter frumpy lesbian professors really that different than straight midlife crisis divorcee males in their advocation of whatever philosophy makes their look and lifestyle most valid in the eyes of cute co-eds? I'm not saying they're even conscious of it. But damn, girls. To paraphrase the Lady Eve, the good girls aren't nearly so good nor the bad guys half so bad, or something - and it's that 'something' that the Weimar girl embodies. In this world, even the cabaret singing is a form of prostitution, with music and kinky clothes, with sex being the selling point of course, but only a sicko, a Ken Starr or Penny Arcade, or a Karl Malden in Baby Doll, would bother digging so deep under the surface to expose it and demand a blow-by-blow account of what paid for what. Same with barmaids soliciting drinks in exchange for a a sympathetic ear, or dance hall girls providing a soft shoulder for lonesome sailors to cry their dimes out on, actresses winning gold statues and foreign princes, or Broadway hoofers mining diamond bracelets along the Great White Way. They're all, in their way, using sex for money. Same with acting itself. As Loreli Lee would say, you don't have to be gorgeous to be a great actress but my goodness doesn't it help?

And from these hard-working women of nightclubs, was a trickle down effect, for they'd funnel some of the silk hat's bread down to their forgotten man husband, home from the war, begging on the corner with his one leg and one arm and one eye, castrated from a mine, forced to allow his wife to take rich man lovers while he crawled around on the subway with his tin cup. Remember my forgotten man? He had a bread line in his hand, a tenuous cord holding him barely to life, his address Central Park, not West or East but right in between. Or City Dump 32, the place Cordelia Bullock found her man Godfrey. I cry just thinking about it. Eugene Palette humbled by Powell's sublime grace, as powerful a butler transformation as Charles Laughton's Ruggles. Butlers are almost unheard of nowadays, in cinema anyway. Did the second world war wipe them away too? You dirty rat, you killed my butler, or chances to ever have one.

Getting back to the prostitute thing: what about the girls who come over with their friends to hang out, drink with you, take it back upstairs and in exchange for letting them 'borrow' some money they make all the seduction moves for you, sleep over and leave before you wake up, presuming any bankrolls or quaaludes they see lying around are meant for them but they're not prostitutes! Depending on who you ask anyway. I confess I don't know anything about this whole quaint custom. I've been propositioned by middle-aged guys in my old neighborhood if I wore my shorts down to NYC Video on 1st and 51st more than I'd see streetwalkers. When I first moved to NYC there were still blocks downtown in the village where you'd turn a corner and bam, it would be insane, drunken black ladies garish with make-up, dresses a world too small for their rotund, massive curvy bodies, bobbling around like a parade float in the breeze, anchored by eight inch pin point heels, a minuscule handbag like Dumbo's flying feather; menacing pimps in white furs strutting around, shaky crackheads eyeing your car for signs of wealth or the cops; everyone (including us) with open beers in brown bags, loud soul music (back before rap took off) with bass so heavy you felt it in your bones three blocks away coming from some low rider car. There was a route going up and around 7th Avenue and below Houston, where cars would just circle around and around, barely moving, everyone stopping every three second along double parked tailgates to say hi to someone or start a fight or buy drugs or sex. For us, a bunch of white dudes newly moved to the city it was like a magician lifted a curtain on our workaday David Dinkins-cum-Giuliani world and there it was: the NYC of the 70s.

Not long after (this was around 1991, the same drive would just show cars driving up, wondering where everyone was, cracking beers from trunk coolers, and getting promptly arrested, noise ordinances passed strictly to get rid of this Friday night tradition. And all along 7th Ave up from Houston: sad young suburban black teenagers pouring out open beers as I'd stagger past, drunk, to Max's fold-out in 17th St, where I'd pass out and watch channel 68 with one eye shut and try to write down a number from one of the Asian lady services ("You have time today?") over and over, never quite getting it all down but it didn't matter, i wasn't going to call, just thinking I would eased my existential lonesome, for that commercial played in a loop with about seven others, in between snippets of the Robin Byrd Show. Good lord, that show sure didn't help my depression, that cable access sex show was to real sex what one of those sun-faded, turned blue pictures of Chinese food are in the windows of take-out joints. Even now I can't see a sun-faded turn-to-blue video cover or picture in a window without wanting to kill myself. All those wasted hours nosing through crappy VHS boxes, looking for something worth getting. Wasn't that the whole reason I'd come to NYC, to escape those boxes? And there was Robin Byrd, like Poe's hideous faded-to-blue heart.

 In the old movies I knew of, but didn't then like, there was always the bragging Gene Kelly with his little black book of unseen dames. Thanks to Lane Pryce asking how much he owed Don after hooking up with a woman at his place, I finally could know what those black books meant. No wonder they were such a sure thing! These are the 'party girls'? The Foreign legion of Women? Not really at the bordello level, but at the swinging apartment paid for by either one rich sugar daddy or a slew of less exclusive gentlemen (the $50 for the powder room in Breakfast at Tiffany's). If not for the code who knows how sophisticated the various levels of prostitution, gold-digging, party girl operations, and dance hall hostesses could be by now. That's progress for you. Now it's too late. My naivete has set in stone, like the moralists photoshop layer dream was right after all -- or else it's just my Puritan Pilgrim blood.

There's is not exactly a sex for cash up front quick bordello transaction, more like the Holly Golightly approach of asking the guy for $50 to tip the powder room attendant, keeping it of course, and then delivering---what? The censors won't let us know whether it's just a night of basking in her gamin aura, a hand job in the cab, or a snog in the foyer of Tiffany's, the unspoken assumption that as soon as it's open, 9 AM or whenever, the horny guy and Holly will be there, the diamond bracelet like a marriage license at MGM, a ticket to ride. Sex it seems in American movies comes with a very high price tag, until around 1968. If you want an extra-marital fling you have to pay the girl's entire rent and keep her in furs and jewels until, at last, you walk in on her with her gigolo boyfriend (remember her forgotten man?) and chastened, run home to your wife and children. Did you remember not to write her any love letters?? If you did, and she still has them, the paying doesn't stop. For not all forgotten men are willing to go into bootlegging like everyone else, they'd rather live off their women especially now that you've been muleishly kicking their stall. There's a name for guys like that but before I can say it someone always bashes me in the back of the head with a bottle and steals my gold pinkie ring, thinking I'm dead and hightailing it to the tropics. By the time they learn I just got a minor concussion, it's far too late to return, for they've already bashed another one. And this time, they got to hang, for the kid, so he can become a DA.

European imports like Marlene and Greta hit their marks and quivered their lips but it was because they were in the moment, they lived between the marks in ways directors not versed in theater didn't understand, that they resonated, and to see Maria Braun in Fassbinder's Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) walk into a room and start playing around with items--even in the bombed out wreck of a city she's as happy as a lark-- is to feel the energy link between Polly Peachum, Dietrich and Fassbinder through to.... whom? Ich weise nicht. Or to paraphrase Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, you Germans certainly have a funny way of bombing a city down just to build it back up again.


In the Hollywood pre-codes and in Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) they are slow complicated maneuverings oscillating between push and shove within a single scene. Rather than needing whole reels of crying by the window just to call or come running to the airport at the last minute, girls who came of age watching Friends insist no flight can ever be just quietly snuck off to, no mistress quietly visited in a sly 5-7 without the other finding out and making a ruckus. Maria Braun's great gift is to be able to change the dynamic of a relationship within the actual scene via small push-pull mannerisms, going in for a kiss, whirling away again, etc. back and forth, to avoid all the usual traps sitcom-saturated Americans dive into (as in presuming after one snog you're going to get married, or expecting a girl to be faithful to you just because you kissed her at the ball). She keeps the sexual chemistry fluid, the sense of play opens up, and it becomes a kind of magic, very close to what it's like when hooking up on acid (as seen in the Warhol bathroom in Midnight Cowboy), a swirling pincer movement and advance-retreat-advance somewhere else while the opposition is moving forces to where you just advanced kind of a wave tactic. It is not a romantic blitzkrieg as we have today - where screenwriters don't know how to write such stuff because they're not in theater the way Bergman or Fassbinder were, they don't even know who Fassbinder is. They hate subtitles. Imagine, Hollywood screenwriters who don't even know who G.W. Pabst even is. But on Hulu Plus lurks almost the entire Criterion back catalog--it's worth getting just for the Germans! Fassbinder gets it, and his Maria Braun is his finest creation, a perfect synergy with actress Hannah Schygulla that functions as both feminist parable and economic critique. Maria uses more than just seduction to move up the ladder, she helps build the business, using keen fiscal acumen to merge into a partnership with a post-war Marshall plan industrial clothing corporation. The kind of skill and sex combo that some women demonstrate in Mad Men only to lose their tenuous footing as sexism underhandedly knocks them over, Maria never falters, kicks back, never cowers or cries in the bathroom or throws it all away to become an actress or a mother. Her kind of courage would come with either the 'crazy' as in bi-polar druggie nymphomaniac or 'ball-buster' frigid bitch extreme tag here in the US. But in Germany she is very very sane, ambitious, and able to soar ahead of the men without them feeling resentful, able to drink and fool around (and murder GIs) without penalties or moral judgement, without psych wards and counsellors. Like Polly Peachum, she does it all for a husband (Mack the Knife is in prison or on the lam; Maria's husband is in a POW camp) but when the husband returns he's still merely a figurehead, a pimp in name only --it's more that the woman is demanding equality for her man rather than vice versa. He's a strutting peacock, or a shattered shell of a war vet, and either way, little more than a figurehead on the mast of the Black Freighter.

But deprivation makes the seduction a matter of currency always, and so it makes sense that in Europe, in the post-war years, even returning POW German officers would rather lunge for a cigarette than the throat of their wives' black American GI lovers when they walk in the door after being presumed dead. Such is the way deprivation makes Hawksian hipsters of us all (or Dietrich, who famously sent all her love letters from other men to her husband in Germany for archiving). And their women are not fallen from grace at all, just smart enough to use every sexual trick and ball-twisting curve at their disposal to keep chocolate and cigarettes on the table, including smashing a bottle over the black GI right then, before her husband can even find a lighter.

Compared to that quick decisive action, virtue is hardly worth a loosie.' Leave the noble starving to Loretta Young and Joan Crawford over in the States; the German women shall not be so easily snowed under. And they shall have smooth Camel taste, and maybe a radio. What else can zey do? They're addicted. Aus Deutschland, wo es nichts anderes zu tun! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Troopers of the World, there is one Bug you can not beat: the Bug inside: STARSHIP TROOPERS, NAKED LUNCH, SCROOGED, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

(The following was written whilst whacked out of my gourd on withdrawal sickness (withdrawal: the best drug in the world) coupled to flu-like symptoms and twelveteen shots of knockoff brand Robotussin while trapped at brother Fred's house for Xmas. Phoenix is an armed camp, your majesty, in a deep unconscious trance born of desert wind chill, plentitude, and cordite. I was gonna scuttle it but wanted something to run next to my AMY review to provide the proper balance/perspective, to take any buzzkill taste out, like HEAD after LOST WEEKEND. So take it for what it is, a deep Xmas poem riddled with diseased insect sci fi poetic film references, enigmatic but revealingly pretentious typos, and a profound realization borne from watching NAKED LUNCH and STARSHIP TROOPERS off Fred's savvy Tivo on Xmas at 3 AM (after SCROOGED) And getting it now - As Bill Murray so egocentrically says "I get it now" Three films! One's about a man who has a religious experience after disgruntled employees put LSD into his Xmas gin; one's a literalization of opiate withdrawal's 'Kafka high' rabbit hole, wherein one's typewriter takes on insect features and moans when you press its throbbing keys; the third finds giant insect aliens learning our secrets through drinking our brains like milkshakes (instead of vice versa, as in LUNCH). In other words, beware your own response to the thing you squash, for you squash yourself next, with your giant arachnid claw! 1/27/16

-- If yrt terllin; me that there's a difference, a fundamd,emta;a diffferemce. netwntwwme starsjip stroppp[ers amd Naked lunch, er lust, yr a lawyer and and I;m tellin hyou so

Put it another way - if there IS a difference between STARSHIT TROOPERS AND NAKED LUNCH I MEAN LUST then it exists only in the minds of MINOLTA, a Japanese company, think about that, mr fareqwell to manzzianar,  mr sm,arty pants pbeamnenk vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzn

Return of the Insectoid Meta Gaze (i.e. the projector watches you watch its
projection with its 3-color projector eyes from top: WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953),
THE VISITOR (1973),  STARSHIP TROOPERS (eyes as projector beams),
SCROOGED ("no eye in team" - eye in the glass)

Would you like to know more?

There's no correct answer, for we're going to, KNOW MORE, that is, regardless.

Starship Troopers - 1997
This post - present
Regardless: the whole terrifying endurance test of full awareness is coming. We shall inexorably, like a keel-hauled eyeball, KNOW MORE. Strapped into the conveyor belt of fascist indoctrination as snug as if we were pinned to the tunnel floor by an arachnoid claw, awaiting the slow gurgling arrival of a brain bug on the 3D screen God or parents have convinced us is space-time continuum permanence, its row of inky black arachnid eyes beholding us in patterns similar to our urine-froth, noticed while gazing deeply at a party house toilet bowl, (and then later in the beer from the keg or the foam on your highball)  and forgotten, filed away under layers alcohol and potty training cover memories, now returned with a probe to suck our brains dry as a keg and we screaming all the while on the human conveyor belt: stop stop! At least hit pause!


But the "like to  know more" button is hit again and again, purse-taken, for the brain bug WOULD like to know, like how to SWAT GOD and it knows just where to go for that knowledge, knows just what fleshy tendril to hit the button with, to slurp the brain slushy cup dry down to the ice with, rattling in its spinal column 'til clatter shatter and scatter.

Naked Lunch

Life is but Death's slow yawn, once it ends, he regains composure
does betwixt the columns flit
like some gay brain donor fancy free flitter
hitting the snooze button
agan and a LITE to NO MORE
NO MORE butTON, (is the hand that makes) WOULD YOU LIKE TO...please, NO MORE!!!
Starship Troopers
This is your brain when snorted by bugs
The NO MORE Know More LITE button (the hand that heals)
hit again ("Kiki come and see the parrots with me") LAW no more, slurps your soul's slug white glop from the gurgling straws pushed down into your sleeping head, my love, the sound of your own animal snore,
crashing like waves of liquid lead,
along Poe's obsidian shore, my little lovey glovey...

Vot ISS da LAW?
O'er the Grampian Hills beyond beyond, Harryhausen stops time to move another dinosaur.

(and once again, says weather on the one, we have cool conditions)

cool as the keeper
of the LAW
hung from a tree, his beard glued for hours,
a flag to from its prideful fascist twisting flee,

Weimar lock stock to Hollywood's larder, never believing Breen's censors could swastika snip their decadent art down even there.

The best thing about Verhoeven's ingenious and endlessly rewatchable masterpiece is the idea of an all service DNA imprint manual for fascist military mobilization. In America we didn't really get these until WW2. America's devout isolationism reflected greatly in all sorts of bitter anti-war tracts instead (such as the forgotten man pilots of John Monk Saunders) as far back as the easily seeable GUNG HO, or B-17 STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS, with the end of high school and the end of other various key moments in life shared by the representatives of labor (lion, roughneck), intelligence (scarecrow, gestapo), and passion/drive or heart (tin man, flight school) and the way all of the Earth has been homogenized into a tract that could be at home as a Japanese anime, a Nazi recruitment film, an Army or National Guard recruitment film, or an anti-war satire of any genre or age. Verhoeven's sense of irony is very Dutch and very abstract, coming from an, how you say, "occupied" country with nothing but windmills and spies, easily tromped across like a neighbor's lawn to get to the hated French.

this is your typewriter on drugs
But this could also even be a movie for and about bugs--"we're in it for the species, people." We've been at war with those suckers since the dawn of time. Only when we're finally ready to start eating them in force will we have a ticker's tape of a chance. Children, I was on the front line in the war against the Japanese... beetle, that is, in the 70s and if it wasn't for DDT they might have won. I'd get a dollar per jar, all captured and dumped into soapy water, until the jar turned dark yellow and the squirming stopped. Quite a lucrative occupation for an eight year-old during a major PA infestation. Would you like to know more about the slight itchy pain when they dug onto my childhood fingers, the difficulty in getting them to let go? Did I learn a hint of masochism even then? I lay at night with a ten year-old's imagination conjuring turning the cute blonde girl Susan Salter in my class into an Amazon queen of the school and me her slave, crouching naked at her feet in chains. Weird but true...  I had my queen, and I her submissive consort, fit to die after mating if I ever found out what mating entailed.

Denise Richards, nailed to the cross of her passive viewing position - STARSHIP TROOPERS
My red state brother and his gun crazy family and friends as well as my liberal bleeding heart pinko east coast friends all agree on one thing, STARSHIP gets better with each viewing. No matter how many times you see it. Be it a satire or a genuine (as Heinlein apparently meant it) call towards dissolving of borders in favor of one global and eugenically fine-tuned communal military spirit, blessed with a conveniently abstracted enemy, an insect of the sort that may not be as evil as the higher ups paint (for a NWO hangs together by its extra-terrestrial foe, as Reagan said), at least if there's any ENDER'S GAME sequels, which I doubt. (its losses transcend comprehension: $100 Million Dead!)

The little tiny bugs inside your money

Next up in the Xmas Viewing Cycle: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

And the Song WE'RE IN THE MONEY.
I saw this time Ginger Rogers and company as sprites, bugs if you will, within the money, moving with the tick tock military march rhythm, like a click clock salvia divinorum revolution through the space-time continuum thread counts, as literal gold diggers --tick burrowing into the gold of coins themselves, literally little sprites 'in the money' behind every coin, the way the green fairy could be singing "I'm in the absinthe."

Where did the phrase 'in the money' come from and what are the similes 'in the cool of the evening' - 'in clover' - 'in love' not 'in the love' though, so more like some bumper crop, we're in the cotton, or we're in the game.

a money sprite oscillates her 12 legs to hypnotize unwary prey
For life is but Death's brief yawn, the chasm of blank urinal stare from which infant to elder crawling towards bathroom like flogged Christ doth breathe but brief; we in our robes like Lebowski, like Peter, Paul, and Prokofiev on his week off are but shadows that for awhile, while the byang root tea arrived on time, were comported almost like the barbarity that passes for civilized, but when the tea stopped we still had to fulfill because that of yawning Xmas mail irregularities chasm of need, that King Kong Emperor Jones clanging on his hollow huffalumpagus skin drum, chanting madly to the bloodstream like an anguished and unassailed suitor, begging for alms and change and unchanging, and the brief candle onceness.

Not getting the cosmic joke makes the joke on you, and that's the whole joke--it is all there is, that mirthless angry laugh as the flames consume Richard III, or any angry and despotic ego unwilling to surrender its uniqueness and become just another wAVE IN THE SEA-SKY CONTINUum rather than a separate and superior cloud. The mark inside is the one mark you cannot beat, would you like to know more, you brain bug behemoth tottering towards me now in the guise of a pit-bull?

Now, in the guise of the pit bull.
tomorrow the guise of the floor where she lay.
Form of an avalanche,
Form of a water glass
Form of the sailor who's drunk at sea and sleeps all day.

Booze's bars closed down hard upon him ("kerPLUNK" was the sound they made)
and with a drowning howl did he comply to the exit (hurrpy up plays- iTS's time)
and proceeded to haunt Davy Jones' Liquors, for it opened always to him.
Penny-eyed and seaweed wreathed, the early morning sunshine
on bottles glistening like DEEP morphine pearls
til scraping enough off his barnacle billfold
bought him a pint pocket of air... just enough to get him up to speed
a messy, sloppy speed... and
how he breathed this song:

Now, in the guise of a lilly
tomorrow the guise of the hay.
Form of a whiskey jar,
Form of an after bar,
Form of a drunk on the concrete, prostrate...
His saliva as thick as the oceans
to the tiny ass gremlins
and sprites in a sidewalk black chewing gum circle,
drown as he drools in his sleep.
(and were their concrete pock mark impressions on his cheeks when at last he arose?) 

Probably, man. He can't feel it.
Even drunk he comes to know more than we'd like to remember to remember ourselves.
Click the 'like' button not, the "to know more" or to click the snooze button, or click it to yourself, Bill. and member dis
Remember me, Cloris in DEADLY.

Cuz of course only the Spectral Relief Pitcher of Self Annihilation so terrifies our Babe Ruth ego he finally says, here Pee-Wee (the nonegoic amorphous open-hearted self, the one vulnerable in its generosity, easily swindled by sad-eyed strait waif who keep the change tossed, and bring no fat goose to no Cratchett) you go ahead and bat this once and I'll sit out the inning, then, the mighty Pee-Wee lets fly and sends it out of the park, and the Pitcher vanishes! Freedom.

And if we've been a team dominated by its needy spotlight hog insecure star Babe Ruth ego all season, keeping Buddhist Pee-Wee on the bench permanently, then once Pee-Wee hits the homer, Babe Ruth comes running back to the field to take the credit for not taking credit. He needs to take that spotlight again and rant about how "we get it now."

He gets it now... no wait, now he gets it.... wait...
"I get it now," says Murray at the prolonged wearying climax of SCROOGED.

That ending has really dated badly but we used to LOVE it. In the 80s it was the kind of thing people just didn't say. This was the era before Dr. Phil and Oprah, before children became the equals of their parents, when they were meant to be heard only in the basement in a voice that wouldn't carry, until the haunted house was ready for the parents to be led through one at a time blindfolded, or failing that such time as we were called for one at a time to show some new trick. This was a time when therapy was still a shameful secret and a kid had to commit suicide successfully before his parents would consider it. That Leo Buscaglia love trip was strictly 70s naïveté. Scrape 'em off, Claire--that was the 80s rallying cry. Arnold Schwarzenegger was our spiritual leader in so many ways, steam roller paving the Hollywood politicians trail blazed by the mighty Paul Ronald Reagan Bunyan (though everyone knew her as Nancy), in a backwards Terminator motion, icing the Sarah Connor pro-drug 60s-70s with the kind of "NO" bumper stickers that Lennon worked so hard to flank with a "K" and a "W" in YELLOW SUBMARINE.








End Transmission