Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Midlife Crisis Month: Best of the Beards #1: Kristofferson

Do they still do that thing of growing mustached for prostate cancer awareness in November? My sober anniversary month, November 17th, stained with the rainy teardrops of shaking and quaking and the usual marker between my manic and depressive phases --the pain is all long gone but the tremors linger on. Rough times, man. October is my favorite month, November my least (after April). But what is Heaven if not Hell finally accepted? The flaming beard of the sage is as a nest for the bird of wisdom; rant against cigarettes and condomless sex still the cows come home, Safety-First Clydes. Gives a flying fuck doth the sage? He accepts Hell and finds heaven. Or as Kristofferson put it:
"I ain't sayin' I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing.Then I stole his song." 
See, the man Kristofferson is from a different time, his beard is a different breed from the quirky hipster's. It's all there in the movies of the 70s vs. the movies today. Badass country songwriters in the movies today got about two options: twitchy meth dealers who abuse their wives and children as ominous music simmers on the stove score, or serious, hard working sober Christians in flannel who just want to teach the son of the single mom he shacks up with how to fish, whittle, or tune a guitar before he has to ride into the sunset or take one last shady job to pay for his boy's operation. There is no middle ground today, no man who is both reveler and decent guy, spiritual seeker but not a prude, not a cliche'd everyman but a dude, one free to drink and smoke without needing to make a good impression. There's only the Dude left, and he's just gonna keep ridin' - keep takin' 'er easy. But once upon a time there was a slew. That's why LEBOWSKI would be nowhere without Sam Elliot to supply the narration and Saspirilla drinkin' - he's the sanctification, the link we need for clarity --we'd never see the straight line woven along from Hawks and Bogart's Marlowe to Gould's Marlowe to Bridges' faux-low easy rider, unscrambling the remains of the Chandler Sleep-verse deconstructing around him to, recently, Phoenix's Doc. But what about the less educated, less artsy, more plainspoken and 'real' representations of manly cool? The cowboys, the straight line between John Wayne and Bob Mitchum to football players played by Kristofferson and Reynolds in SEMI-TOUGH? All we got now is Adam goddamn Sandler and his saintly manchild contingents.

Back before that manchild thing, the result of not being able to smoke in public, before the PC putsch that gave rise to unbridled Commie indoctrination in academia, back in the 70s, if you wanted to tell a story about a raunchy team in the flyovers you could make them hard drinking ten year-olds or coaches who'd just as soon call the game off and pass out. Those were real men! I wish to god I was with 'em, but they're dead or worse, sober. For 17 godly years, but I drank the devil's brew for free. 'Til I paid. Fitting that the quote above is an intro to a song about meeting a "great and wasted" friend of his, Johnny Cash in a Kristofferson's "To Beat the Devil":
"I saw that he was about a step away from dyin' and I couldn't help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me. I'm happy to say he's no longer wasted and he's got him a good woman. And I'd like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped show me how to beat the devil."
And so it makes sense, it being November, to honor the facial hair not of the co-op hipsters that haunt the coffee houses of Williamsburg, for they'll never be a step away from dyin', or as Kristofferson says in the great and underseen Alan Rudolph film SONGWRITER:

"Do you suppose a man has to be a miserable son of a bitch all the time just to write a good song now and then?"

The hipsters today don't need to be miserable anymore, they got antidepressants and Cialis, they'd never be son of a bitches, and they'll never get the nicotine and cyprine stained beards of the 70s dads and groovy football-when-it-was-cool older brothers, the goalpost indication, the beard that cares without being a pussy about it, the indication that a man had 'passed' his acid test, was no longer that into looking young and gorgeous, was cured of all his narcissism and insecurity and was, above all, too lazy to shave.

November's also a month of great introversion and isolation and blockedness, so for me the usual cinematic obsessions with wild cool women fades. All I do is sit around and watch World War Two documentaries and Vin Diesel movies (he's our century's John Wayne and don't make me prove it), Tennessee Williams movies, James Coburn, John Huston, Voight, Reynolds and the man with the best beard of all, Kris Kristofferson. (1)

So who gives a fuck about that little pisher Jesse Eisenberg throwing his lot in with the UWS bourgeoisie and their smug piddly ass New Yorker subscriptions and their tired tweed jacket self-importance and knowing chortles? Soon my kind will drop 'em down and the new generation of ten thousand talkin' and nobody listenin' will swallow them up. Kristofferson is still the coolest man on TV. And all you have to do is watch THE VOICE and how regular that lanky Blake Shelton beats his the crushingly insecure and narcissistic manchild Adam Levine. I'm no country music fan in general but between who I'd rather drink and shoot bottles with or have as an AA sponosr, it's old Shelton. You just know he'd be able to talk about more than how you like his hair and what people are tweeting about him.

"The "loving fight" concept was huge in the 1970s, especially, as I've noted before, in Burt Reynolds movies like SEMI-TOUGH. This was the age of bloodless bar fights, where chairs break easy over heads, and people fly through storefront windows with the carefree abandon of a kid jumping into a summer lake. Everyone makes up outside in the parking lot, their macho fury soothed with some good old fisticuffs in the grand drunken John Ford tradition. And SEMI-TOUGH has the coolest two guys and a girl group bond since DESIGN FOR LIVING.

The 1970s dad was peaceful enough to understand the need for these sorts of outlets for his children and friends. In our more "enlightened" times no one is allowed to fight or have raunchy sex without consensual agreement in writing beforehand, and gloves on all contacting parts, or even the compulsive need to boast, overthink, drain the spontaneous joy out of it, and feel guilty afterwards, second-guessing and self sabotage all because we drank the nonsmoking manchild/perfect man dichotomy rom-com Kool Aid, which is exactly how European men describe the American woman's attitude towards sex. For all it's tossed-off clumsiness and Burt's intentionally shocking freedom with vulgarity and the N-word, SEMI-TOUGH is a rare document revealing that if only for a decade, we had sex like the French and fought like Americans instead of the sad reverse." (MORE)


We can see dim shades of it in Demi Moore and Ashton, but it's far more about, or seems about, two insecure narcissists desperate to connect. And Ashton and Burt in 1974 have a certain immature rawness in common where you could understand an older woman going for it, because she knows she has something worthwhile to give them back, more than money or maternal support. But there's no comparison beyond that because unlike Ashton, Burt was/is a real man. And here on Larry King he's being more emotional than Shore was, and that's why it's so brave, why it brings me almost tomy knees to read that interview above because it reminds me of something our 21st century man has yet to find. Male sensitivity now is inescapable, but it's worthless, it's just passive-aggressive snickering boy nonsense wrapped in high-voiced ectomorphic pretentiousness. Dinah would bitch slap the lot of them, while Burt cracked up in the background, and because she's not here to do it, we all mourn. (more)

1. I should add I'm very unnerved by Kristofferson when he's clean shaven. I know laudable critics from Kim Morgan to David Thomson love the naked faced KK in films like PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID and CISCO PIKE... maybe I will too, one day.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Acidemic Nic Cage Reader

So many actors mistake genuine wild man edge for just being a dick or bugging their eyes, but ever since he won our hearts by shouting "bring me a knife so I can cut my FROAT" in MOONSTRUCK Nic Cage has had a grip on our darker looney tunes prickly pear hearts of darkness. He once spent a whole movie talking in a joke of a nasal whine I thought totally ridiculous until I met my Italian-American college girlfriends' adenoidal cousin from Yonkers who talked the same way. Sublime. As always, Cage was ahead of his time even then. As I battle my usual post-Halloween sober date mid-November ennui and its inevitable writer's block, I realize there's only one way to go, the past. I realize there's only one man to battle the demons with me, Nicolas Cage. And one reader, and you know who you are. It's you... always you.

(Nov. 30, 2009)

If you're familiar with Cage's oeuvre you will undoubtedly realize this role is something of a mid-career capstone. He even finds his way home to the nasal whine he adopted in his uncle Francis's time travel romance, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986) and branches out all serpentine. Lots of us back then who were in awe from him from BIRDY (1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987) and MOONSTRUCK (1987) thought to ourselves where the hell he picked up this ridiculous nasal vocal style? Shit was so good it became ridiculous in PEGGY, it was too much. Now we know how he got it, from all the crack he be smokin' in the future!

[...] Lastly is the brilliant way the film brings in sobriety as an option. Going off to AA and leaving your druggie mate behind to drink alone is hazardous to any relationship, an instant point of cataclysm usually seen from the sober person view (28 DAYS, CLEAN AND SOBER), but Herzog would never dream of following the sober person and leaving the crazy druggie behind. When everyone else is slinking away as the abusive crackhead rants and froths at the mouth, Herzog walks boldly in with his camera and asks said crackhead about his dreams. Herzog would be a great "guide" on an acid trip. You can see him getting all up in a cop's face over his charge's right to roll around foaming at the mouth in Central Park or to bite the heads off slow-footed squirrels. And that's how it should be, maybe, in a perfect world. (MORE)

(January 7, 2010)

Whenever we think our man Cage is totally sucking, it's probably that he's just so far ahead of the curve we're afraid to follow lest we get hit by a truck careening around the bend. Not unlike the character he plays in the BAD LIEUTENANT 2, Cage's cop in WICKER is brave so far beyond reckless that he comes back around to cautious and upwards towards brave again. (MORE)

(August 3, 2012)

"There were several scenes in SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE where I was almost rolling on the floor in hysterics like I was the first time I saw FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! and never before or since. The peak scene in the film being outside an underground boxing match, where Cage's Blaze--his eye sockets warping into skull pits and flames shooting out of his nose--threatens a shady promoter that the 'rider wants to come out,' over and over. It's a moment as thoroughly awesome as Cage's rant against the elderly woman in Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT or against the maid in VAMPIRE'S KISS! Junk cinema has been needing scenes this crazy for decades, and you're not going to get them anywhere else except with crazy Cage. The film's sheer psycho-cycle balls out, hanging brain, pissing fire off the back of a pick-up truck as it speeds down the highway reckless giddy oil-stained freedom is all him, and his obliging directors of course. It's clear co-directors Taylor and Neveldine work very well with the right actor, like Statham in the CRANK films, tailoring the madness to fit their leading man, director and actor encouraging each other like bad influence friends into progressively more dangerous and foolhardy endeavors, to all our benefit. " (more)

(June 8th, 2011)

DRIVE finds Cage--once again back from the grave to avenge his daughter's death and/or save his granddaughter. Apparently Hell consists of watching helplessly from beyond the veil as your loved ones suffer. If the veil in this case was the screen and we were his loved ones, well, there you are, all meta and--unless you're at a drive-in or 3-D ready--choking on the exhaust fumes of cynical producers and product placement.

A pretty boy from the WB casting couch (Billy Burke) is the swaggering evangelical Satanist cult leader who's holding onto Cage's granddaughter until the moon is right for the solstice sacrifice which will herald doomsday. William Fichtner is 'the accountant' who's followed Cage up from Hell to ask him to at least call Satan and let him know when he intends coming home for dinner.

There are some plusses to DRIVE ANGRY: in one scene Cage is shooting bad guys while having sex with a naked waitress, fully clothed, with sunglasses (that's not the plus part) and holding a bottle of whiskey. He shoots the guys without spilling a drop and even takes a slow mo swig between bullets. Damn! The copious humiliated naked women parts however taint the film with that new leather misogynistic smell. Amber Heard, Nic's gal Friday has a lot of moxy and fighting skillz but does that really make up for her objectification? She all but grinds herself on the hood ornament like a frat pledge's dorm room poster. And doesn't she and that waitresss have mothers, too? Where's their moms roaring back from the grave to punch old Nic for this uncharacteristic display of misogyny? (MORE)

(KNOWING)  (Bright Lights, January 29th, 2010)

Playing one of the most unbelievable MIT professors in cinema history, Cage is so out of it his science classes consist of elementary film school plot exposition like “Sharon, what can you tell me about the sun?” Still grieving the loss of his wife some years before, he drinks like a fish and won’t let his son have any friends because he’s the only friend his son needs even as he ignores him or misunderstands him continually.

Able through an elaborate and rather labored series of plot devices to predict future disasters, Cage runs hither and yon, yelling at SWAT teams like they’re incompetent student aids, and chasing possible terrorists around on subway platforms. This is a guy who probably cries and freaks out over every single death he sees on the news. You can imagine him calling up Haiti and demanding something be done about the earthquake, the guy who has to butt into every accident he passes on the highway in case me misses a chance to cradle a dying child’s head in his lap and scream “Noooo!” in pitch-shifted slow motion. He’s the kind of navel-centric nutjob that the SIMPSONS parodies by having Mrs. Lovejoy scream “Won’t somebody think of the children!” (MORE)

(August 20, 2010)

I thought the age of great 70s dads was done, but that was before I saw KICK-ASS (2010), in which a truly cool father (Cage) manages to slide past the doting widower daddy ("mommy's in heaven!") morons of Hollywood to finally do what Batman should have been doing all along: using firearms, gutting mobsters with exotic weaponry, and teaching his 11 year-old daughter to be a pint-sized killing machine.

This is the kind of film where you see something genuinely subversive -- kids as instruments of lethal vengeance-- and know instantly that a dividing line will form between film critics that are cool (i.e. they get intentional subversion of the treacly overprotective cinema status quo) and the dull self-appointed moral guardians (i.e. status quo dogma-eating suckaz) as easy to demarcate as a scroll down the rotten tomato meter. (MORE)

Cher's chemistry with Nicolas Cage sizzles like butter and garlic. Cage was a relative unknown at the time but brings such mushmouth ferocity to lines like "Gimme da knife so I can cut my froat!" and "I'm going to take you to da bed" that we all would have fallen off a cliff for him if he asked. Between this and Raising Arizona (also 1987) and The Vampire's Kiss (1988), Cage's effect on us was akin to what Brando must have been 30 years before, that infectious mix of madness, heat, wit, beauty, and ferocity all unleashed at the right time to electrify an entire generation. Interestingly enough, all three of these Cage films from that era are dark comedies, though Jewison's is dark literally, a beautiful palette of black clothes, red roses, and silvery nights, which makes overflowing with color and character balanced without need for animosity, climaxing in a family breakfast where all grievances are aired, love declared, and Olympia Dukakis steals the film with little more than a series exasperated but resigned sighs. Forget Scorsese, it was this film that made me proud to be dating overlapping Italian-American chicks at the time. They treated me way better than I could then appreciate, for I'd found the real love of my life, whiskey. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

Takin' it Bond by Bond

November is the second cruelest month, after April: all my autumnal October ghoulish cheer slides off like a Bond villain off a continental shelf during an underwater chase scene. Glug glug. Down he goes to the depths, just as glug glug this was the month of my bottom alcoholically thrice in the 90s. The month Cassandra brought over ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE on a Friday Night just like this one, and saved my life, for a few months longer...

Bond was there. Bond is here. SPECTRE. Dig.

As whenever a new Bond appears, all the old ones show up on TV, to prep the faithful. I've been updating and elaborating my "Bond by Bond" guide from a few years back, so do revisit, there's a good chap, or girl. Not to be sexshist or lazy, for my keen insights over the years are as sexist, elaborate and thrilling (and grandiose about it) as Bond films themselves.

My Favorite: Elektra King (and she has my initials)

From Father's Day Bond Marathon:
(Acidemic - 6/14)

Following a handful of similar but deceptively elaborate plots that seem to bleed across each other (making each particular film hard to remember), Bond films have always rewarded repeat viewing; as we change from children to men our perceptions of the movies change, too, and new fissures of interest are sussed out. Atomic bomb hijacking minutiae and intrigue, the most boring parts when we were kids, are now fascinating. The giant computers and tracking devices are like windows into a forgotten field of technology, like finding the distant relatives of Skynet.

(expanded 11/15)

n THUNDERBALL (1965) it takes about five minutes of real cinematic time to throw a camouflage net over one lousy sunken NATO bomber. Now that I'm an adult lost in a world of whiplash editing, I love that the early Bond films weren't about saving the world but stealing code machines from embassies and foiling relatively un-apocalyptic sabotage-blackmail schemes to save the British government a few million pounds. On pan and scan the copious ocean footage was hard to follow, making whole segments of that film as boring as 2001. Now, on the anamorphic, it's a poem. Connery is at his best here, elbowing a fire alarm at a health spa without breaking his stride down the hall; turning some painful spine stretching into a chance to blackmail his masseuse for sex (but then massaging her with a mink glove); and he's got a great opposite side spy to contend with, a woman who--like him--uses sex freely and often in her work and is smart and ruthless and thoroughly a villain, and now the beds these spies work on are stretched out to the full widescreen to savor their ornate frames framing the screen and exposing our agog minds to the wonders of Mad Men-era decor.

My first memories of Bond: falling in love with the very kinky edges (Largo applying scientific hot and cold to the naked heaving back of kept woman Domino [Claudine Auger]). As a little sadomasochistic seven year-old, it was some hot stuff. That was Bond in the 70s, in a wet suit, shooting at a shark or a bad guy with his harpoon gun while a hot girl with a cute mole lounged in the white sand at his side, this all via network TV, with my dad watching during the time of Roger Moore's SPY WHO LOVED ME, which was a colossal PG hit my parents felt I was too young to see. Then, in the 80s, when sexual harassment was becoming a thing we rented them all from the newly opened video stores at the mall (or from the back room of appliance stores) and saw them over and over, as reminders of the power we were once going to inherit as men, allegedly, but now never would, for with awareness and compassion--forced on us via the very media we sought refuge in--came loss of the kind of naive innocence that allows for the heedless exploitation of others.

(expanded 11/15)

The idea to make George Lazenby's first appearance the same one where he gets married and then cries is a bit of a misstep, makes him seem a weak Bond, like he can't handle the gaffe, but closer examination makes you realize he's damn good, easily the second best, and had he been allowed to continue, who knows?  And it's a great film, the only Bond to deal with the issue of post-hypnotic suggestion and mind control (sleeper agents, recalling MK-Ultra Monarch's "angels of death", not to mention Dr. Goldfoot's bikini machina,) complex evil plots (infertility) whole second half of the film is a long winding chase down the Alps, the villains pursuing him relentless and intelligent, the skiing phenomenal (the echoes of Leni Riefenstahl's alpine silents surely intentional). But the whole down the Alps chase is all so well done it achieves greatness leagues beyond the usual (his foes are so dogged and resourceful the chase lasts half the movie). Lazenby is a bit of a cypher in spots--critics ragged on him for being such a blank slate--but that works for a spy, and through it all Lazenby shows real emotion underneath the cold mannequin blanket, the way Connery was the opposite.

For example when Lazenby's Bond goes undercover as a snobby genealogist sent up to Telly Savalas' high-in-the-Alps stronghold, Lazenby's Bond puts on a posh droning bore professor demeanor that's so vivid casual viewers think that's the Bond Lazenby has envisioned. When Blofeldt finally unmasks him, we see Bond become very relaxed, even bemused. And then, slightly scared when he has such a hard time escaping in the packed Swiss streets and at his wit's end when Diana Rigg skates over, to the rescue. She's there when it counts, and his kisses on her cheek as she delivers some top notch evasive driving, he needs her. It's not like his usual cavalier élan but genuinely fond, very real, affection. Then there's the worried look in his eye when he realizes he's madly in love with this girl in ways he wasn't with anyone before, it scares him almost as bad as when he was rattled by fireworks and a man in crazy white bear suit at the Piz Gloria rink. At the end, the wedding, he breaks beautifully. See it again and check out his eyes when he says a wordless goodbye to Moneypenny after throwing her the bouquet. He's like a genuinely hopeful child, warm and alive with a new innocence he may not have had since he was a child; Moneypenny recognizes it and the true extent of their bond is made clear. Lois Maxwell's relation to Lazenby's Bond isn't just the usual flirting, both actors make it something real. Lazenby's still Bondian, tough, resourceful, generally fearless, but those tears at the end are earned. Let him grow on you, and Lazenby will grow. And Kojak's a funny Blofeldt (I always crack up when he starts his mind control tape with "You remember when you first came here? How you hated chickens?" And Joanna Lumley's one of the sleeper agent beauties and the great Italian actor Gabriele Ferzetti as Draco, Rigg's Italian 'demolitions' mogul father. Ilse Stepatt is second only to Lotte Lenya as far as butch henchmen, like Divine crossed with a German shepherd.

(expanded 11/15)

This is where Moore's Bond shows the ridiculous kid-friendly slapstick side, with a villain who continually gives Bond free passes for his blunders. I mean this rich killer constructs an elaborate funhouse just to chase Bond through so he can use a golden gun? Why does he have a wax statue of Bond in there before even meeting him? The whole way Bond will finally trick him and win is speled out right there if you have eyes to see way too many twisty movies. In that since, this plays like a long episode of FANTASY ISLAND rather than a real Bond movie and not just because of Hervé Villechaize. Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) is an ex carnival sharpshooter and ex-KGB assassin and has a superfluous third nipple. But "who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?" Moore wonders if his situation might improve if he finds Scaramanga first, before Scaramanga shoots him. Brilliant work, OO7. At any rate, now on HD widescreen, his expressionist funhouse shooting range is most attractive, built rather lovely in and around natural cave formations. There's dumb bits of comic relief like the return of the fat sheriff from the last film shouting at the HK locals as a bunch pointy heads in PIE-jamas and idiot things with no real need to be in the film except to provide scenes (a fight scene in a belly dancer's dressing room is just window dressing). Thai boxing and karate demonstrations paint a portrait of Asian culture as sweaty, brutish and quick, overcrowded, humidity condensed on every surface. The way Bond girl (and supposed British field agent) Good Night (Britt Eckland) shouts vital information and bemoans Bond's womanizing (they had an affair years earlier) and acts at all times like she's trying to be ditzy-era Goldie Hawn rather than capable spy Martine Beswick. The first Bond girl to be truly offensive in her endangering incompetence. We wouldn't see Good Night's like again until Cameron Diaz showed up in KNIGHT AND DAY (See: Terms of Endangerment). Good thing then that the script relies on dumb TV plot luck and past Bond formula instead of ingenuity: "I could have shot you down when you landed, that would have been ridiculously easy," notes Scaramanga. Yeah right. Thing is, Connery wouldn't have relied on the villain's idiocy, and certainly wouldn't be such a drag about it. His Bond admitted he was a killer, and callous and confident enough to get away with it --he had a license! Moore's Bond seems to think he's goddamned Pope Pious, on the other hand, all while dropping awkward sex talk that sounds like he's squinting at a Penthouse bar napkin through bifocals. Still, it's got Christopher Lee.

(expanded 11/15)

Rated G. Am I right? Now my parents had no more excuses. I missed the party, though. Bond seems very old and tired, suddenly, like he should be home watering his garden, not being spun around in a G-force simulator or pretending he could punch Jaws in the mouth and not shatter his wrist. The girls he meets and seduces seem like Valium-zonked call girls paid to pretend he's a spy, tagging along as he romps around his mansion, uncovering little clues his butler sets up the night before, like an easter egg hunt. It's G, so Bond doesn't even carry his own gun, Drax has to supply him with hunting rifles and lasers as needed. He doesn't even drink or smoke. Not even tea. He'd rather quip and try to stand up straight.

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME had been such a huge hit, so popular, the underwater sports car thing so cool, so of its time, thrilling parents and kids alike, so perfectly in tune with the shark-obsessed vibe of JAWS and gadget vibe of STAR WARS, that for the follow-up they made the mistake of trying to deliver more of the same instead of doing something new. Now instead of a car that becomes a submarine, it's a gondola that becomes a comical parade float. Richard Kiel returns as Jaws, gets a Pippi Longstocking girlfriend, and becomes a good guy. The biggest crime, so rare in any Bond movie, is that the filmmakers and Moore presume our love and laughter without bothering to really earn it, and Drax is a dreadfully dull villain, barely an afterthought. The girls all wear dowdy old peasant blouses, the sort that make girls in the 70s sometimes resemble sister wives from old Mormon scrapbooks, or LOGAN'S RUN and ZARDOZ cast-offs and, when not seducing Bond, stand around in readiness like the prostitutes in EYES WIDE SHUT prior to their mind control trigger activation ceremony, remodeled into a WESTWORLD for guys with British spy fantasies. Dumb sight gags abound and repeat: an old coughing Italian man at the Venice cafe sees a floating coffin and throws his cigarette away; the password to get into the secret lab is the notes from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. That's two just off the top of my head.

Thank god the 70s were almost over, and all the variety show schtick that resurged from its watery Vaudeville grave would descend once more into the abyss. With cable there would no longer be a need to appeal to the elderly, children, and everyone in- between all at the same time. But it's still the 70s here and it's a G. And so we have the sort of movie where we get a tour through a priceless antique glass exhibit and know in a few scenes it's gonna be trashed in a brawl--why else is there even a 'glass exhibit'? It's like a delivery boy trying to cross the street with a stack of boxes during the running of the bulls. And bouncy music plays after every lame innuendo, and Kiehl survives everything with a flustered genial slow burn like Wiley Coyote after his latest Acme gadget explodes in his face. Still there's one great moment: a slow Carnivale clown stalk that in its weird shambling silence recalls the previous year's HALLOWEEN!

(from: The Elektra King Hair Complex: Acidemic 11/08 - revised 11/15)

Thus we see the sad result of our collective capitulation to the ever-shifting desires of third wave feminism: even Bond believes he should apologize for being a man. What Tomorrow Never Dies needs more than Michelle Yeoh is Camille Paglia. Yeoh's got the high kicks, but Paglia could have trounced Jonathan Pryce's media pundit with a single trenchant pop culture essay.

Which brings me to Sophie Marceau, sweet... sweet Sophie. She's got the sense of nymphonic entitlement we ned for a Bond girl. When Marceau lounges in gold-trimmed Middle Eastern richness, she not only breaks the Vogue Kazakhstan fantasia mold, she breaks its American and British neighbors. Being French surely helps; she acts like she grew up in luxury, truly embodying and comfy with the finer things designed for and by the big money French which the petit Bourgeois of America pretend suits them, i.e. Tomorrow Never Dies' first Bond girl, Terri Hatcher, who looks like she'll start stealing the designer shot glasses as soon as Bond steps into the hotel bathroom.

Representing the Americans in World is the much more age-inappropriate Denise Richards as an atomic physicist named Christmas Jones, one of the best pieces of stunt casting in the history of cinema. One look at her marching around the abandoned Russian missile silo in sexy khaki shorts and all your worries slip away. Richard's not a great actress but she doesn't need to be, maybe even shouldn't be. Like all the best Bond beauties she acts from her hips, sexual the more she tries not to be (the way a better actress like Halle Berry can't). She's the ultimate third wave fantasy. The best Bond movies are ageless the more they grow antiquated, but the SKYFALL has so raised the bar that it's tough to go back to the lewd double entendre smirking and embarrassed pun groaning of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras (which the more discreet Timothy Dalton avoided) that's why the very 90s capsule-ish THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH has always been unusual for me. One because it has two of my favorite Bond girls, for opposite reasons, two, because for all that it's still not satisfying--it's made at the end of the 90s and is like a tentative swimmer dipping a toe across the centennial Cocteau traversable mirror, unable to let go of 90s things like venetian blinds, Goldie's teeth, post-ecstasy depression, and sexual disillusionment.

But I love Sophie Marceau's Elektra King. The first true femme fatale of the series she easily outpaces the the cancer-stricken-looking miscast Scotsman Robert Carlyle, who was clearly hired because he was so good at being a terrifying Glasgow hooligan in Trainspotting, another quintessential 90s curio. That was clearly a one-time deal - here he's dull as dishwater, just another bloated and bitter townie suffering from his love to a pretty co-ed who wouldn't in a million years take him home to meet her folks. Luckily Marceau's so good as King she redeems the whole affair, survives even Bond's overall trite condescensions, where every woman in the world is supposed to fall for him, give up her life on his whim, and then forget and forgive him while he wanders off with nary a word of thanks once the credits roll. In this case all Elektra has to do is shed a tear and Bond gets all paternal. He deserves all he gets, as does every man who lets himself be blinded by her beauty, myself included. And for her, well, it must suck to be the only mature one in a world run through of stock stereotype snickering, to be in the 'bubble' where no one ever contradicts or refuses you. In fact, if anything Bond reminds me of Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder's DOUBLE IDEMNITY only Denise Richards is Eddie G. and Sophie is Stanwyck. The difference is, McMurray knew she was evil and was frightened by how much it turned him on, how much her evil itself was an aphrodesiac to potent to fight, even knowing it's only a matter of time before that evil destroyed him.


(1/07 -Bright Lights)

Finally saw the new Bond and totally freaked out about it. First off, it’s interesting to see Bond as a young man “learning not to trust again” –SPOILER ALERT– by actually falling in love and trying to live a normal life, with all the weeping and acting emotional that such a life entails. In other words, CASINO ROYALE is not a remake of the Peter Sellers version, but a pre-modern re-imagining of the last Bond film that attempted to be this good, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. It’s like every 37 years Bond meets a girl and falls in love for the first time.

The nifty thing about this new Bond approach is the way it remains conscious of the Moebius strip upon which it runs. It is aware, for example, that the entire cycle of Bond films–which stretch from the Cold War straight through to the future–actually involve the surpassing of technologies in real life that were created in the older films as sci fi devices. Consider for example the “full circle” of our post-modern nostalgia over the gigantic “futuristic” computers of the old Bond villains like Dr. No–with their reel-to-reel computer tapes and punch cards–which we watch on plasma screens from super deluxe DVD sets or ultra slim laptop computers. And now Bond is actually younger and the futuristic gadgets he thought were so nifty have not just been invented but have been over-promoted to the point of un-coolness, and promptly forgotten, and his boss has become a woman, and suddenly he is newly promoted to the job he’s had all his life, and he is ready to meet the only woman he will ever love… for the SECOND TIME!

This sort of thing happens on purpose a lot in David Lynch films like LOST HIGHWAY, but in James Bond it happens entirely as a way to keep the films fresh and the character alive, I know that. But that’s what makes digging for Lacanian subtexts all the more rewarding.

One of my favorite theories for life after death and alternate dimensional living is called quantum immortality. I read the phrase in Cliff Pickover’s amazing book, Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves, but actually arrived at a similar theory myself after realizing that alcoholic black-outs proved we would never die as long as we could remember where we were. (more on that some other time). Seeing Bond tonight in his sixth incarnation, in a title-only remake of the film of the book by Ian Fleming, I felt myself lost in a train car of mirrors, traveling the Moebius strip around and around like a tiger chasing its own tail, or serpent eating its own foot, and I loved every first second of it, because I don’t need to have alcoholic blackouts to double back on myself and be assured of the validity of quantum immortality anymore, I have BOND.

Everyone’s talking, for example, about how great it is that this film offers a “stripped down” Bond: no gadgets and space needles and laser beams. Right. Don’t you see, dear reader, what that means when “stripped down” is still using gadgets–such as cell phones, notebook computers, wireless webmail, satellite surveillance–that would blow the minds of Dr. No or Ernst Blodfeldt, that would make them howl with delight? That sort of stuff is, to us, “stripped down.” We have reached the primordial Now of technology already, where there is nowhere higher to go so the imaginary IS the real. With the digital age spinning faster and faster around us we realize it’s impossible to die because we see ourselves re-born before our eyes, right there plain as the phallic nose on your face in the mirror silver screen. How cool would it be in the sequel of they got all the still-alive Bond actors together in one room (top)? You know, like in 2001, when Kier Dullea sits in a room with himself as an old man and then heads back to earth as a star baby? Damn cool, is the answer, especially if they were all yelling at each other.

Another great example of the Bond effect that comes to mind is in the end of TERMINATOR 3 when future, past, future/past, and past/future all suddenly connect and stop into an eternal now with just Clare Danes, two turntables and a microphone… that future when machines take over, baby, that’s already happened. It’s as clear as the “look” on your face. And you know what?? we LOVE it. We invented it after all, and what can’t kill us only makes us smaller, faster, and more efficiently designed. (James Bond Rides the Strip)

(Acidemic 11/08)

An example of a character having innate understanding of Lacan's "impossibility of desire" can be found in the James Bond series' Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and her office flirtations with James Bond (in all his various incarnations). She's remained the same for several. Come along with me on this structural adventure as we see just how and why.

Maxwell, in her grrlish days
Note that the regular flirtation of Bond and Moneypenny begins with her feigned anger at him for arriving "late." No matter when Bond arrives, she makes it seem as if he is late and that M is angry at him. But in the locus of their combined desire, Bond can never be anything but "on" time. M will usually berate him on some minor point before laying out the details of his case. Q also pretends to be annoyed with Bond's childishness, but at the same time, entrusts him with millions of dollars of high-falootin' gadgetry. He regularly saves the world but also avoids the thanks of his government as his prize is already in hand, a hot Bond girl all wet from a narrow escape.

Moneypenny doesn't give Bond thanks but what he truly appreciates. She sets herself up as an upper-middle class spinster, pining for a secret agent who prefers more exotic, younger women. And he in turn professes to love only her, implying he's sleeping with everyone but her as he can only love the one he hasn't quite gotten around to yet. And if she pushes the issue, he instantly propositions her: "Drinks, my place. Tonight." But she ignores his request; sure that he is not being serious. Between the two of them is an implicit understanding regarding the parameters of their pretend courtship. If she took him seriously, or if he was actually sincere, bad blood would instantly erupt. Alas, in our post-PC era, no such parameters can really be established, so the fine art of fake flirting is all but gone. Too bad, because it's great practice... the pair switch role from pursuer to pursued on a regular basis, each claiming they pine for the other, and so forth.

Thus, Moneypenny's desire for James is innately dependent on his withholding of that desire's gratification. Such examples occur throughout cinema as well as in life, but this one is worth noting since it's ubiquitous and recognizable, a key signifier of the Bond series. This regularity itself makes it a fine example of the Lacanian phallus. Bond "owns" the phallus, as the ultimate "one who enjoys" the way that's impossible in the Real; but Moneypenny is the one who truly owns its lack in the purest Lacanian sense; she alone understands that having access to the phallus will not prevent its lack, but will in fact destroy the position from within which that lack originates. (MORE) 

(Bright Lights - 11/08)

Critics are mixed and audience feedback wildly disparate over Quantum of Solace, but while you are formulating your opinion or, like me, waiting for the initial crowds to disperse before taking in the second Daniel Craig entry, why not give a ‘flix to the Bonds of the illustrious past? Better yet why not look at their hot babes? And better yet, the babes who are also evil henchmen, seductress-spies and/or the super villain of the film themselves!

The first such babe appears in Dr. No. Zena Marshall plays the sinister-spy secretary Miss Taro. A buxom, sumptuous Asian-hybrid babe in the early Playboy tradition, Ms. Marshall oozes libidinal treachery as Taro, but she’s an amateur in the spy game and James is a professional. After surviving the ambush set for him en route to a booty call at her hilltop chalet, Bond “takes what’s coming to him” as a survivor’s fee–letting her think he doesn't suspect she's stalling him until the second round of assassins arrive. He’s aware though, naturally. After the post-coitus haze has cleared, he hands her over to the authorities and calmly waits in her darkened bedroom for the next cockblocking killer to creep in.

Sexual chessboard spy games would become taboo with the dawn of “political correctness” Bond, where sex must be harnessed to confessions of love with moistened eyes or at least some amount of mutual respect, but seen today, this sort of grudge-f*cking is fresh and totally tantalizing (Connery's Bond especially never misses a chance). Why shouldn’t male spies be active in the web of counter-seduction, rather than moping around passively like Claude Rains in Notorious or John Gilbert in Mata Hari? That stuff is for chumps! The East German Stasi had a whole program of handsome undercover spies seducing lonely NATO secretaries. Sean Connery’s Bond knows full well that the best intel is won between the sheets, and he’s just the man to go after it, letting his target think she’s playing him for a sucker all the while. Call it sexism all you like, but I would argue, in hindsight, Bond shows Miss Taro real equality; she’s treated like a spy among spies, and not some precious third wave princess who must be showered in jewels and pampered royally just to get it on already.

FINAL LINK: We've gotten into the spirit of the thing by having a lot of 'ahem' girls up in these pics and descrips. Bond seems to breed Mad Men era sexism like a virus... but maybe I can prove I'm sensitive via this double book review of HAMMER GLAMOR (there was bit of bleed over between Hammer and Bond girls, both coming from the same country and studio) and a book called FEMME FATALE - back in Bright Lights 

That's all, but Erich Kurtz will return in ANYTHING THAT KILLS YOU MAKES YOU COOL FIRST.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Special Edition: 10 Quintessential List + 13 More on Bright Lights

As a lifelong classic horror fan it gets my arse all in a tether when channels like IFC figure what we need are marathons of crappy HALLOWEEN sequels, or that horror means only three names: Freddy, Jason, Michael or god forbid, Jigsaw. To me that's like bringing a keg of green dyed Bud Lite to a highbrow Dublin wake. It's gouache. The one time of the year the punters might learn something about our rich horror heritage. Well, rejoice brothers and sister. I've made a grand list of 13 horrors fit for even Hiram Walker himself, found only on Acidemic's more coherent and lauded (as opposed laudanum) cousin, Bright Lights Film Journal:

Sh! The Horror! 
13 Suggestions for an Uncommon Halloween Viewing Experience

Also, make sure to visit my Netflix horror recommendations on:

Post-Giallo Nightmare Logic ala Netflix
and Netflix Deadpan Comic Horror Inititative
Last year's 13 Obscure Horror Gems (via Slant)
There are real magnificent gems I watch every year around this time, they're laden with atmosphere to the point you can smell the bonfires and first dew of night, feel the centuries of huddling around the harvest hearth in your collective ancestral ganglia. Rather than finish all these half-assed reviews I've been struggling with, here now, some short mentions of all the favorites I revisit every year.

(AKA Horror Hotel)
(1960) Dir. John Moxey

There's so many strange similarities between this Amicus debut feature and Psycho that, were they not made in the exact same year on opposite sides of the Atlantic, you'd swear they were emulating each other. Both feature naive but courageous and very pretty blondes who wear their hair moddishly short and leave their comfort zones on big adventures, alone, against other people's advice or good common sense, and wind up staying at decrepit inns where they are killed, by a knife, in the middle of the night, and the middle of the picture. Then follows the boyfriend and/or detectives to investigate and eliminate the threat, but the damage has been done; our locus of identification is forever shattered. Welcome to the 60s. (from: CinemArchetype #5: The Human Sacrifice)

Even her name, Nan Barlow, evokes her sacrificial position (similarity to John Barleycorn, the symbolic straw man sacrificed at harvest time in lieu of an actual male child as of auld). But what's most important is the swirling black and white fog, sinister shadows, minimalist sets, and the feeling of pre-ordained noir-ish dread (I don't think there's a single outdoor shot - the town with the witches is just a fog-bound soundstage, and all the better for it, especially in the moments of warmth like Nan's refuge in the cozy bookstore. Add Christopher Lee, and a bunch of comeuppance heaped upon the snickering left brained science major boyfriend and you get a favorite of mine. Makes a great double bill with BURN WITCH BURN (an actual line in the film) and/or VOODOO MAN. 

(1976) Dir. Willard Huyck 

This impressive debut feature from future Lucasfilm writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz stars Mariana Hill as Arletty, the emotionally vacant daughter of a disappeared artist (Royal Dano). There's a hushed quality to Messiah of Evil, all the better to hear the waves crashing in the distance. Nobody shouts until they're about to die, usually at the hands of cannibal mobs. A super-chill dandy, Thom (Michael Greer), and his two girlfriends, Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang), join Arletty in an attempt to unravel the mysteries afoot in this secluded, unfriendly location, and as Thom busts a move on Arletty, the girlfriends disappear into the ominous blackness. Among the film's more haunting elements: photorealist faces peering through windows and a wall weirdly painted with a full-size escalator. At any moment, this empty house seems as if it could warp into a nightmarish shopping mall—one of many bizarre evocations of a film that cannily mixes Lovecraftian dread with Antonioni-esque alienation. (Slant 10/30/14)


It take a few viewings to really appreciate KILL BABY; it's not as highly regarded as some of Bava's other work, which is probably due to a history of bad prints and title changes. A Victorian Gothic Italian rural villa ghost story, KILL, BABY, KILL's Italian title was OPERAZIONE PAURA! (Operation: Terror!). We don't blame them for changing it, but why make it sound like a giallo spy thriller? The similar sounding film FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL came out the previous year, and was a film that set the bar for outre grooviness, but grooviness hadn't even been invented in the BABY's Victorian Age setting. Instead there are beautiful 'old master lighted' bowls of fruit, great wind effects, sedatives ("give her 20 drops") and an array of strange and wonderful women, including an Anna Magnani-ish bruja (Fabienne Dali), a terrified innkeeper's daughter (Micaela Esdra), a stylish and terrified med student named Monica (Erika Blanc), and Melissa Graps, a ghost girl with blonde hair (to tie the film even deeper into RIGHT ONE, she's played by a very spooky boy, Velerio Valeri). She's so weird, like Italy's Victorian era version of THE BAD SEED times the SHINING's murdered twins divided by Norman Bates in "wouldn't hurt a fly" drag.In fact, I've seen this movie five times now and it gets better every time, even when it does put me to sleep. In order for a film to be 'hypnotic' on its fifth viewing, which this certainly was, first it has to first be 'boring' - that's the nature of hypnotism as I've come only recently to realize. Since BABY tells only one story, it's not as relentlessly scary and blackly comic as Bava's 1963 trilogy BLACK SABBATH (Which will have you and your viewing comrades calling each other "Stanka!" for weeks on end). KILL, BABY, KILL can seem padded here and there with repeated shots of bells tolling and gloomy ghost-eye exteriors. Cool scenes of victims returned as undead servants of the evil spirit, foreshadowed all through the first 2/3 of the film never materialize. Did Bava run out of undead make-up? Is that the reason the film is so slow, and yet over so fast? (more)

(1957) Dir. Roger Corman

I saw UNDEAD when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, Dorothy Neumann the definitive good witch. Her crooked nose, clearly made by cheap putty that seems always about to dry and fall off (you can see the line between Neumann's real nose and the false one), bubbling cauldron, and other trappings, puts to rest the libelous claim of Glenda in OZ that "only bad witches are ugly" (the bad witch is sexy Alison Hayes) and I love the casual way she asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon.

Lastly, the insidiously merry laugh of Satan himself, played brilliantly by Richard Devon, incorporating modern wit and ancient evil as a good-humored beatnik trickster who transcends time itself and recognizes the time-traveling hypnotist right away, by name! Awesome. Once the rubes leave, the site of the black mass becomes a point of contact between the by-now-insane hypnotist, Duncan, the devil, and both witches as they all argue for and against Duncan going back to the executioner in the morning. Ingeniously, Corman finaly moves his camera outside, making the sun and sky seem suddenly more unreal and dreamlike than the black fog supermarket-bound night that came before.

1968 Dir. Terence Fisher

Here in Hammer's tight little adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's novel we have everything that makes British devil films great: Christopher Lee, some intelligent older women, Charles Gray as a sophisticated, witty villain, and upper crust Jet setters cult worshipping Satan through black magic, peppered with a few older eccentrics who look like any minute they're flying to Manhattan for Rosemary's baby shower. (CinemArchetype 17: THE DEVIL)

1968 Dir. Jack Hill

As with GIRLY, described in my last post, SPIDER BABY seems to merge with my psyche as if it had been made just for me... zeroed in but not in a sort of overkill give the people what they want kind of way but a perfectly-realized, just gory and strange enough but never to the point of post-modern narrative disruption way. It lies on the historical time line between my love for those old Bela Lugosi Monogram and PRC poverty row horrors and the art film Corman-school mix of post-beat wit and Corman trained mastery of on-the-fly shock, schlock, and drive-in pacing. Nowhere are there the tedious elements that usually mar old dark house and murderous family films: no snarky reporters, imbecilic cops, doting old ladies or suspicious tire salesmen and yet there are all sorts of groovy meta links to the gonzo films of the past in the casting: Monogram mainstay Mantan Moreland opens the film as an unlucky telegram Sam; Carol Ohmart, the archetypal broad in Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1957) and Corman's The Creature from the Haunted Sea, is great at making greed and contempt super sexy; Sid Haig, the Jack Hill and later Rob Zombie perennial, brings weird savage naive pathos. Why, the whole thing just stinks with atmosphere! (that's a quote from the sun-dappled but roughly similar and underrated Boogeyman Will Get You (1943). (more)

(1959) Dir. Ed Wood

"...But if you’re old enough to remember UHF TV then you remember seeing PLAN NINE or BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and having your mind blown. Wood understood children’s need for disruption of narrative and that need is the same as Godard’s. Nothing bores children like heavy plot-driven adult conversations and mature coded historically accurate subtlety. When green slime drops from a CARRIE bucket onto Kid’s Choice Awards presenters, how different is the laugh derived than the laugh when Tor Johnson bumps into the doorways and shakes the walls in BRIDE?"(see my MUBI List: Accidental Brecht)

(1963) Dir. Roger Corman

A personal favorite Halloween perennial, this loose comedic 'adaptation' of Poe's poem has reluctant sorceress Vincent Price longing for his Lenore and Peter Lorre (old and bloated but still hilarious) as the raven, turned that way by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), who it just so happens killed Price's father and has, as it turns out, stolen Lenore (Hazel Court) - who's still alive (a bit like he stole Lugosi's wife in the 1934Black Cat, another Poe "adaptation"). Soon they're all packed away in a carriage, along with a super young Jack Nicholson as Lorre's son Rexford. It all culminates in a memorable sorcerer duel that's fun for all ages.

The Blu-ray remastering is jaw dropping --as different as beautiful soothing night from shitty gray-ass day; its vast and impressive sets (Corman kept all the sets from past Poe films and by the time of The Raven he'd assembled them all into a vast sprawling Gothic maze) always looked kind of brownish and washed out but now every flicker of the big fire pit is a poem; once the gang enter Scarabus's castle the HD transfer begins to shimmer and glow in a new hauntingly lovely greenish gold reflective light and inward depth. The Les Baxter score at times errs on the side of the smugness and helicopter overbearance; but this is pure uncut Halloween delight, so might as well bring the kids by which I mean depressed lovelorn sophomores reeling from too much bad acid too soon in life, catching this at the Student Union and needing to return to the Gothic chambers of childhood, wherein every fairy tale was grim... and all the more comforting for it. (Mephisto from Missourri - 10/14) (est. times seen: 10, since 1975)


At 5:30 the scare engine heats up even further with the Spanish-British horror union of Horror Express (1972), which was long a favorite back in the day, with an alien whose glowing red eyes carry imprints of things it had seen such as a book about dinosaurs, and Telly Savalas as a Cossack who comes barging onto the train at the worst possible time. Christopher Lee is the surly scholar and Peter Cushing is the Sherlock Holmes-ish hero — they’re a great couple, and the train with all its Victorian furnishings and International coziness, is terrific. The film barrels along with nary a dull moment and the kind of crazyAncient Aliens-style storyline that doesn’t insult the intelligence even while blowing the mind and causing chortles over the cheap effects in spots.

(1985) Dir. Dario Argento

I've seen fire and I've seen rain, and I've seen SUSPIRIA enough times to not even mention it here - but PHENOMENA is a perennial because it's got Jennifer Connelly in the dark mirror twin role to her LABYRINTH wanderer (made the following year).

'Care and attention has obviously been paid and if you can move into the frame of mind of being at a near-deserted drive in in the middle of nowhere you will dig the spook show surrealism and great wind noises. It takes all the hot topics of the early 1980s/late 1970s and mashes em up real nice with Argento's bizaarro-Italiano seasoning: chimps avenging their slain masters ala his paisan George Romero's MONKEYSHINES; THE SWARM-style bug attacks; CARRIE-esque telekenetic revenge against bratty schoolmates (replete with wind blowing the hair back ala FIRESTARTER); deformed Jason-like freaks, flaming lakes, a razor left in a trash can for the chimp to find); beheadings, maggots, POV killers shots with a knife on a pole ala PEEPING TOM, etc., all scenically filmed around the base of the Alps, where it's nice and stark and windy, in what wheelchair-bound Donald Pleasance dryly refers to as "the Transylvania of Switzerland."

People have written bad things about Connelly's acting, i.e. her blank expressions when she should be scared. There she goes, walking around in killer's houses with an expression as if she's asleep. Well that's the point, genius! She's a sleepwalker! It's in the plot, somewhere, I think. Anyway, go with it. When in doubt presume everyone in a foreign film has amnesia, you're guaranteed a good time. PHENOMENA works best, as its fans note, as a fairy tale, with Connelly's power to attract bugs perhaps the key to her fearlessness. She's like a superhero, hence the killer's question, "why don't you call your insects?" when she's about to be decapitated."(more)

(1981) Dir: Joe Dante

For my money this is the best lycanthrope study since WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1934), the one with Henry Hull and Warner Oland fighting over a Tibetan flower, not the one with David Naughton arguing with a decomposing Griffin Dunne in a Piccadilly cinema. Maybe I just don't care much for werewolves that get hung up on the letter of the law, like Landis' AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which came out the same year as HOWLING and there was much to-do in the press at the time about which make-up artist did the better transformation. Rick Baker is a genius, sure, but he and Landis makes Naughton's transformation unbearably agonizing, the moon inescapable, the beast itself a real wolf puppet on all fours--he takes it all way too literally. Joe Dante and Rob Bottin on the other hand know it's a goddamn metaphor so don't get hung up on the 'real' parameters. The HOWLING wolves move way beyond such hang ups, looming tall like monster gargoyles. Following in the shoes of Dante's patron saint, Roger Corman, HOWLING taps into the lupine side of 1970s sexual swinger and EST-ish energy, it's funny and scary and trashy and witty all at once, and then adds De Palma meta-refraction and audio mimesis procedural delirium, Carpenter ominousness, Cronenbergian clinical immediacy, and a plethora of great bit roles by folks like Dick Miller, John Sayles, Kenneth Tobey, Slim Pickens, Kevin McCarthy, Forry Ackerman, and Corman himself..
Great Women of Horror - Acidemic Top Ten. 

Netflix 24-hour Horror Marathon 
(though only about half are still on there. Netflix what happened to you, man?)

CinemArchetype 17: THE DEVIL

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hauntology for a De-New America!

The rise of the retro-analog synth soundtrack in recent horror and science fiction films--both in and out of the mainstream--has brought us into a weird wondrous future alternate reality where perhaps, ideally, orchestral scores will stop. Maybe it's a question of age -- if you were an impressionable American child in 70s then the Carpenter carpets and Goblin pulsing, the sounds of yesterday's vision for the horror future, are now like the mystery of death and eternity tied into some deeper-than-nostalgic tugging, like a rope you're following through the Thing whiteout Arctic storm. But the rope itself is just white noise.

random painting from Night Gallery

There's so many overlapping trails you could get lost right quick without the right guide. So pay me five teen dolor and I'll take you to see Simon Reynolds, Mark Fisher, and Ghost Box, all enthralled by the same thing, as I am, this moment of clarity, the Memento moment, when we finally remember that we've forgotten the present, that nostalgia and endless proliferation of media make the present impossible in the face of so much immediate, accessible past. Every moment of the present is now spent either shopping for or cueing up the next experience of the past (the next movie, book, track) or vanishing into the same through our haunted ghost shell eyes and ears. Smoke some weed and watch a movie -- the weed erases the movie as you see it so you can see it again a day later and it doesn't even seem like the same film.

When Reynolds rounds up some writers who best sum up the hauntology sound, he starts out with Matthew Ingram at The Wire ("memory is a theoretical portal to the phantasmal kingdom, not a trivial exercise in retro stylistics" and ends up with Dickens and then W.S. Merwin ("Tell me what you see vanishing and I / Will tell you who you are") and it all makes frickin' beautiful eloquent sense.

But mainly, I got here because I love John Carpenter and thanks to Netflix showing me The Machine and Beyond the Black Rainbow, where I was like oh wow, I love these movies but 50% of that love comes solely from their pulsing analog retro-futurist synth scores, both of which are on Spotify, and so the Moog crumb trail widens deeper into the black forest of retro-futurist analog Halloween and the analog synth score style of John Carpenter, and the 70s cryptozoological funk of Goblin lead me unto Ghost Box, Scarfolk Council, and now Simon Reynolds and Ghost of my Life author Mark Fisher, who repurposed Derrida's original (Communist-spectral) meaning towards haunted music, via childhoods spent attuned to quietly forward thinking electronics of BBC's Radiophonic Orchestra, and that decade's openness to the occult, carrying over from the 60s, a whole generation of artists who'd done LSD in the 60s now coming to the adult world and taking over the reins, and children's minds right there in sync with them, in ways we lost in the 80s, when videotape erased the mystery from media through the very act of preserving it.

For me the love affair began Boards of Canada's Music has the Right to Children in 1998 and then Zombi's Cosmos in 2003, tapping for maybe the first time into the retrofuturist analog rainy day weirdness of old 70s filmstrip tape accompaniments for elementary school primers on ESP, Argento frisson and druids. With the advent of digital everything the warm pulsing sound of analog was the first time doubly ghosted, and like a double negative became positive, or in other words, the past sounded warmer and more organic, even more futuristic, than the immediate present. That's hauntology, and I'm hooked... at least until November, when those loathsome orchestras will inevitably return right as night starts lurching way forward thanks to daylight savings, and the orchestra snakes across the stand-still city like a rope of sweaty reflective mylar-enshrouded woe.

Here's my #1 of two Spotify lists:
Heirs of Goblin Carpenter

And now here's some of the more noteworthy soundtracks and soundtrack-ish works.

Cliff Martinez (2014)
Soderbergh's Cinemax series set in turn of the century surgery at the Knickerbocker Hospital would be a bore if the score was in the hands of an orchestral windbag like Howard Shore or John Williams, but Martinez realizes the power of hauntology at its fullest - not the actual past music (which was after all, trying to evoke its own past), but the retro-futurist music of remembering the past, or envisioning brutal operations under primitive instruments still screaming through the emotional machine, the amniotic pulse of analog which now seems so welcomingly inhuman in our overly human age that we cling to it like we would a churning life raft in a brutally tranquil sea.

John Carpenter(2015)
He's not the visionary filmmaker he once was but Lost Themes lets fans of the master know he's still got the gift of making superbly creepy synth-based music. Each track on here could well be the theme song from a classic early 80s or late 70s opus like Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, and whatever autumnal sights or sounds you see or are thoughts thinking while listening to JC's masterful mix of piano, electric guitar and analog synths are suddenly fraught with a sudden Panavision ominousness.

Umberto (2010)
Steve Moore's big band going for that Goblin-Carpenter vibe with an intensely percussive and bizarro rock 80s synthesizer twist, NNF calls it "electro-satanic Goblin worship."

Sinoa Caves (2014)
For when your floating down the street at dawn, chased in slow motion by your own shadow looming 60 feet tall and with burning coal eyes or are tripping your face off at an airport, part György Ligeti from THE SHINING and part Claudio Simonetti from TENEBRE.

Antoni Maiovvi (2013) 
Musik for remembering what it felt like as a 16 year-old driving home at night in the rain after seeing The Terminator at an empty theater in Woodbridge, NJ. As we learn in all the great writing on hauntology, that's what the uncanny frisson memory of the mediated grave robbers from outer space medias are for. Maiovvi's soundtrack is for a 'neo-giallo' short film set in Berlin. I'll probably never see it, but I do like the soundtrack.
Broadcast (2013)

Formerly a late-to-the-trip hop female fronted kind of Stereolab-Combustible Edison hybrid, Broadcast were nothing if not classy, cocktail retro swing-ready, and a touch derivative. Turns out they were just waiting for the 70s BBC ghost documentary childhood analog synth reverie to kick in to become the sickly and glow-in-the dark poster child for the hauntology movement via this merge with amniotic Focus Group. There's presumably some real occult documentary voiceover buried somewhere in this ominous, but always playful mix of tape loops, effect, and poppy little stabs; "the bee colony" is a classic example of their rare ability to bring in vocals without breaking the mood.

Zombi (2004) 
In the beginning, as far as this futurist giallo nostalgia went, there was just this bass and drums duo with an intensely percussive and bizarro world synthesizer twist. They've gone on to deliver great neo-giallo work that would be perfect on any Argento or Fulci film from 1971-82.

Advisory Circle (2014)
However you got here, this is where to stay, if  you're me, perusing the Ghost Box catalog, The Belbury Poly can get too upbeat, other acts too newsreel sample crazed but Advisory Circle never waver from the straight up 70s synth analog spookiness. "The Ghost Box aesthetic has expanded beyond spooky public information films full of roll necks and bowl cuts to something involving sharper cheekbones and haircuts. Their palette seems to shift from faded film oranges and browns to black." - Wire (B. Coley 7/15) so true, Wire.

Disasterpiece (2014)
From the very first notes of the very first shot, you just know, things are never going to be the same old concept of old sameness again.

Jeff Grace (2014)
".... while tipping its hat to John Carpenter [it] moves beyond mere cloning of ones influences. Jeff Grace feels like a real contender for the electronic score crown. Cold In July is undeniably a post millennial classic synth soundtrack that makes the terrific and very enjoyable music of Umberto, Zombi, Salisbury & Barrow feel like mere fanboys playing at wanting to be their heroes Moroder, Goblin, Tangerine Dream etc [...] Somehow he puts new textures into the atmospheres of these tracks and adds a new level of sophistication to synth scoring.(Space Debris - Cardrossmaniac)

Roll the Dice (2014)
Third studio album from the Swedish electronic duo with a history of Swedish TV scoring and DJ circuit touring though their forte is clearly an ominous analog horror-ready cinematic boom just perfect for walking briskly through the park while being shadowed by (or walking) a big black dog. (pick track; "Blood in Blood Out" - with its ominous thudding bass note piano keys banging ominously over a morse code echo and rising under current it's as if Carpenter's Halloween score had a moody son who was growing slowly with every three chord return into a gigantic mutant/

Tom Raybould (2010)
Dig these bizarro retro phat synth paranoid scores: Rayboulds is somewhere between Vangelis for BLADE RUNNER, John Carpenter for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and Tangerine Dream for SORCERER, and the perfect wallpaper for a crisp fall afternoon wandering through a dying landscape.

Steve Moore (2015)
"Cub is a retro-synth soundtrack that's so good it doesn't need to pretend it's anything new. This score is the sound of a man and his synthesiser creating fabulous minimal and spooky analogue sounds not unlike John Carpenter whereas Zombi were more like your full on horror prog rock group along the lines of Tangerine Dream or Goblin.(Space Debris)

Sleep Games -- Pye Corner Audio
Dead Air - Mordant Music
Room 237  (OST) - Jonathan Snypes & William Hutson
Access and Amplify - The Brain
From the Grave - Umberto
Brainstorm - Steve Moore, Majeure
Night Drive - Chromatics
Hic Stunt Leones - Alessandro Parissi
Belbury Tales - Belbury Poly
Drokk - Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury
Only God Forgives (OST) - Cliff Martinez
Polygon Mountain - Ubre Blanca
Ga'an - Ga'an
Solar Maximum - Majeure
Unicornography - The Focus Group
Psychical - Ensemble Economique


And when in England visit lovely:

and also lovely Clinkskell

This 2012 clinkety-clink riveter from Boing Boing pen plinketer Mark Pilkington explores muchly the fiction and authorial booky wook aspect: "Hauntologists mine the past for music's future."
And this quintessential post from Rouge's Foam scribe Adam Harper, explores a wide range of music, film, and art: Hauntology: the Past Inside the Present. 

Hard to believe it's from 2009. Were was I all this time? Ah, what a loaded question.



JULIAN HOUSE (Design/Videos)


And then Shout Factory debuts this the same week I'm writing this post... It's cometh. Who says America's behind the screens when it comes to hauntological excavastalgia?