Saturday, September 26, 2009

Great Acid Movies #25: PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)

Casting Adam Sandler in PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE was a gutsy move for director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson. Instead of uniting Jersey boys (Sandler's demographic) and cineaste hipsters (Anderson's) both groups stayed away in droves, snuffing the film's chances for box office recognition. A mad meditation on color, love, music and maturity, the 2002 film comes sandwiched between Anderson's better received epics MAGNOLIA and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. But it's no boondoggle; it's a gem and all it takes to see the luster is to get over yourself for hating HAPPY GILMORE.

Exploring the agony of having seven nagging older sisters, the ecstasy of first love in Hawaii, anger management and coming clean about porn addiction, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is really about sound and color and if you can key into that then the brilliance, the love and the redemption flow unstoppably all over your pants. Even if you saw it once and didn't like it, I'd say toss your expectations and sit in it, without expectations, one more time.

In the beginning it seems that Anderson's film is following the same Lynchian framework of ERASERHEAD -- the isolated everyman in a strange landscape of alienating industrial sounds and soul crushing neighbors and bullying relatives --but it's no nightmare. It's a fable or a light show, or a concert in words, and if casual Anderson fans tend to skip over this film in order to focus on his "big canvas" pictures, they miss the heart and soul of the Anderson auteur persona. Unlike his mentor Robert Altman, who can get bogged down in his actors' improv thesping, Anderson is a track-shot formalist at heart and in LOVE the cast may be small but this isn't a HARD EIGHT-style Sundancing chamber piece, it's a candy colored dazzler of lyrsergic intensity and late 1960s optimism still simmering in the deep recesses of even the most repressed dork's heart of hearts.

Anderson guides you, via Barry's shocking blue suit, to experience the movie as pure cinematic color. He even advises in the DVD gatefold:
Get Barry’s suit blue, blue blue. Don’t be shy. Get Barry’s shirt white. Don’t be afraid to let it bloom a bit. Turn up the contrast! Make sure your blacks are black and listen to loud.
PT loves long beautifully-constructed tracking shots, and here they take on a poetic abstraction, sometimes quite literally dissolving into the brilliant color morphing video art work of Jeremy Blake. That kind of pure cinematic abstract art is often misunderstood by mallrat American audiences trained by lackluster public school art programs to look dismally or obliviously on attempts to fuse abstract poetry and surrealism into mainstream movies (they line up to see FANTASIA during its re-release, but promptly get restless and fall asleep, and who can blame them?). Adam Sandler and art are, to the great majority of filmgoers in this country, mutually exclusive. Art is what bores you at museums while you wait it out til cocktail hour; Sandler is what you watch way, way after cocktail hour, after dinner, after the parents have gone to bed and your townie friends show up with a case of beer... and probably fucking Slim Jims. If they bring some tabs of acid too, though, you'll want PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE to split the difference... suddenly Adam Sandler sulking through the abstract parts of FANTASIA begins to make perfect... whoa, is that... a... why does he have a harmonium on his desk, man? Far out.

This is Anderson's tale of Kafka-Lynch insanity but it carries the low key sense of redemption that can be found only in Val Lewton's shadowy compassion. Like Lewton, Anderson has an ability to be patient with his self-centered characters, leading them and loving them unto awakening and transformation. A comparison for the visual style would have to be the Coen Brothers, but the Coens' love is much harsher and deriding. Anderson's sibling expression on the other hand is that of a loving older brother: if there's some need to poke fun and be cruel, it's always with an inevitable beatific and benevolent purpose (forcing the younger sibling to stand up for himself, for example) and very protective. To put it very broadly, Anderson's movies are older brother mentorships, inspiring awareness of love and self-reliance, ala Nicholas Ray or Altman, while the Coen Brothers are witty formalist meditations that inspire awareness of existential mortality and the inevitable crunch crunch of death's jaws, ala Aldrich or Kubrick.


That sort of tough love of an older brother for a younger sister or brother is felt especially deeply in PUNCH-DRUNK, which chronicles the "coming out" of one of L.A's more deeply hidden sweet souls. As friendly to our cause as that arc is, it's nonetheless the visual landscape of the film that merits the lysergic connection. The pinks and blues and whites and deep black silhouettes are all the sort of stuff many directors use to hide the flimsy material but in PUNCH-DRUNK's case it is the material; the style shapes and frames and focuses and blurs until we recognize that pure art is the way to shift attention from the banal blinders-on crawl of drab social reality into the liquid present where life is a continually moving, breathing changing force expressing itself constantly through the air, the stars and the sea and every random song select or spin of the roulette wheel. So when you see PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE even stone cold sober you can follow Anderson's breadcrumb trail right into that same candy colored universe of egoless nonjudgmental acceptance of all life as it is right here right now. In short, watching this movie gets you totally "TOASTED" on art, love, and a dizzying array of overlapping dialogue by the seven sisters, who make the witches of MACBETH seem like Girls Gone Wild.

The sisters are just one facet of this film which hold massive hidden depth within its seemingly "quirky indie" surface. They all talk simultaneously while saying different relevant things, like a maddening Greek chorus with everyone on the wrong page of the script. There's parts in this film that go by so fast they're easy to miss the first time around: the sparkling modern kitchen and nanny with baby in the house of the conniving sex chat blackmailer "Georgia" is something I want to see again, for example. Her contented, housewife status attests to the previous scams she's pulled with the mystically named "Mattress Man" (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). As said dark father/older brother figure, Hoffman is also worth seeing several times to get all the great, blustery David Mamet-ish expletive/repetitive venom. Hoffman is the evil version of Burt Reynolds in BOOGIE NIGHTS or the Frank Mackey Tom Cruise character grown old and portly. From a lysergi-mythic vantage point, Mattress Man is seen not as a dark father per se, but more an older brother, the one whom appoints himself the villain that must be faced/stood up to in order to "earn" the passage into manhood and marriage. Brevity prevents me from gushing in length about the always revealing Emily Watson, perfectly cast as the patient love interest, eyes sparkling with undisguised love and fascination with violence.

Lastly, what can you say about Sandler in this film, other than he finally finds a role that will use his Nicholas Ray-little-boy-lost rage for good rather than the evil? I'll confess I'm way too highbrow to have seen even a single Sandler movie other than this one (I went to high school with too many boys like him to feel anything but lunchroom nausea at the very thought of BILLY MADISON), but after seeing LOVE a second time, I'm seriously considering throwing HAPPY GILMORE or something onto my cue.

You o snobby reader needn't get that drastic. Just open your heart and forgive Sandler his schnooky trespasses and dig on his big triumph that may have slipped you by one way or another. More importantly, if you've seen it once, you haven't really seen it. Anderson redeemed Mark Wahlberg (BOOGIE NIGHTS) and Tom Cruise (MAGNOLIA), and you're only a hold-out in the waiting room of ignorance if you can't finally come in and admit he's done the same for Sandler. So ignore the "misfire" tags of those critics too hung up on expectations to dig a low-key candy-colored classic in their midst... I mean it should be a Valentine's Day essential! It's a movie that you can't help but connect to your own life, it helps you remember that you too are capable of true love and redemption. I mean yeah, it's a tripper movie about a total square, man. But dig, he's got cajones now. El hombre has the love in his life; he's a man at last; he's encountered the eternal maturation flower of the third eye open. He's let his spirit fly and crunch at will. It ain't got drugs, but the movie itself is one giant candy tab... just turn up the contrast, crank up the volume and Anderson'll take you there... to the Loveland, where redemption comes in bright colored sheets, preferably displayed at eye level in the center aisle... and the music is so good you need to play it loud, or else you haven't even really seen it



Read my very special Andrew Sarris blogathon overview on Paul Thomas Anderson here

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hell's Angels Vs. The Flower Child Dead: GIMME SHELTER (1970)

In the wake of Woodstock it was apparent to even the hardliners in office that "relating" to the youth movement had become intrinsic to long-term survival. Where the rock stars went, young potential voters followed in legions, a city's worth of population literally on the move. If they stopped getting high long enough to realize the power they had, these kids could overrun the capital without a single gun. In true American fashion, these youths were an organized political force and a swarm of ravenous locusts, eating, drinking, and smoking everything in sight and leaving only broken trees, cigarette butts, beer cans and mud in their wake. When the big rock acts came to play like some band of bespangled pied pipers it was up to the old guard to make sure they led all the rats to the swamps way outside of town.

Today we roll our eyes in outrage that FBI had files on rock stars like John Lennon but Altamont shows the feds weren't all wrong in seeing Christ-like rock stars as a threat to national security. Even so, they should have known how fast revolution gets postponed when one is fucked up, and fucked up these kids were. So, when Mick and Keith decided to do their own Woodstock out in California, the politicians and state leaders didn't try to talk any sense into them, or shut them down, or run them out of town on a rail, but instead rushed to accommodate with starstruck obsequiousness. All this is captured in Maysle's film: Among the sights and sounds is a chance to watch legal superstar Mel Belli come in to make sure local speedway managers don't stand in their way. When he tells the contrarian owner of the speedway on speaker phone: "The Stones will be there tomorrow morning," it's with granite certainty; no amount of cops can hold back this tide of youth. A platoon of cops would be as outnumbered as a skeleton UN peacekeeper force in the middle of a Rwandan genocide.



If you don't know what happened man, the Stones got Hell's Angels to do security and as there was no room for the Angels to hang out and drink their beer between the crushing rush of fans and the stage, dozens of people got tapped a little bit around the head with bike chains, pool cues, and in one case, a knife.

I've seen this film dozens of times since the late 1980s when my punk rocker friends and I would watch it every day after school, so I've had lots of time to study the footage and see what went wrong. As a kid I was all terrified of the Angels and what I thought was random violence. Now I see the film in the context of the endless Resident Evil and I think Altamont would make a great addition to the series: RE18:  Altamont 1969! The Angels Vs. the Living Flower Child Dead. I'm sure that it's what it felt like to the Angels, who were misled into thinking it would be a cakewalk and were thus unprepared for a job that entailed controlling a crowd of hundreds of thousands of bad acid-guzzling, late-to-the-lovefest poseurs, all suddenly remembering they know Mick Jagger personally and Mick invited them onstage and... oh wow, man this shit is kicking in and... it's all cool so let me just bite... a chunk... off the band's shoulder and climb into Charlie's bass drum and sleep it off.  The Angels were outnumbered and high as kites, who can blame them for going a little Street Fightin' Man on the glazed-eyed, needy throngs trying to climb over them? The whole Manson thing had, by then, occurred, so we knew west coast hippies weren't all folkie peacenik like the east coast, yeah I said it!


I mention this not to belittle the tragic events, but to illuminate how powerful and well-done the film is that for all the times I've seen it, I never remember much of anything except Mick's attempt to stay cool and happy onstage during the Altamont melt-down, something especially emblematic of the fall of the movement as a whole. He can't see or tell what's going on with the lights in his eyes, but he knows something bad is happening, and the confidence and sense of artistic freedom leaks so fast out of his voice you can hear the whole world's optimism going with it.

"People always seems to get in some kind of a scuffle every time we start to play that number," he says. His sexy rockstar cocksuredness becoming a "let's all remain calm, children" kind of principal at the school assembly. "People, Cool out! Sisters! Brothers and Sisters! We don't want to fight, do we?" But he asked another rhetorical question just a few scenes earlier: "You don't want my trousers to fall off, do you?" And in both cases the answer is the same subhuman, pre-or-post-lingual howl.

Rock stars asking for restraint? Hilarious to a faux-jaded teenager for whom it's all just yesterday's papers such as I and my punk pals in high school. But as I age into it, the pandemonium and moments of quiet beauty throughout the film are all too real and too true to be merely simplified, tag-lined, and forgotten.


In the end, for all their peacenik lip service, GIMME SHELTER is the Stones as the sirens calling the hippies forward to dash their brain ships onto the rocks of Angel chains. The Stones were never about peace and love in the cornball "this is called prana yoga, everybody. It gets you really high, okay?" way of Woodstock; nor were they the working class yobs like the Who; the Stones were dandies, art school kids more concerned with their Carnaby Street clothes and chicks (or 'birds') than patchouli and sandal worship. The Angels had done good security for the Grateful Dead, but nobody needs to rush the stage at a Dead show. Ain't no one pretty enough in that band for even the hungriest zombie to want to maim, much as Bob Weir liked to think otherwise. The Stones had used a British chapter of the Angels at their Hyde Park Brian Jones memorial concert the previous July, but as Gadfly's David Dalton notes:

As security (for the Hyde Park performance) the (Stones) used Hell's Angels. Well, er, English Hell's Angels—the Stepney chapter. East End yobs playing at being in a motorcycle club. The Stones liked to flirt with pantomime violence—always fun and decorative, isn't it? And hadn't these rough lads given the show just that bit of Clockwork Orange frisson that the afternoon needed?

For years I thought Altamont as just a case of the Hell's Angels just being violent because they could--were bullies--a lifelong fear of mine (that never materialized) but as my viewings have increased and the image has become cleaner, I realize that while the Angel's methods may have been too brutal for the scene, there just wasn't good enough security otherwise all down in front of the stage and Mick and company would have been overrun, and possibly ripped to shreds like Sebastian Venable in Suddenly Last Summer if the Angels hadn't been there to fight back the tide the only way they knew how, with pool cues and chains. I bet Sebastian would have been glad to see the Angels ride to his rescue, instead of Liz Taylor's hippie pacifist virgin, just standing by the wayside, wringing her lily white hands!!

I remember a skinhead bouncer saving my ass once in a similar situation at a show in Trenton's City Gardens for the LA punk rock group X around 1984. Some guys were trying to turn the front nto a mosh pit back when the days it was still called "slam-dancing" and this big bald punk guy, probably about seven feet tall yanked me out of the way of a drunken fist flying right at my head through the melee while I stood there, lightheaded and dumbstruck. The tall bald guy stuck his own fist out and smashed it into the face of the guy who was coming right at me, halting his frame and forcing his fist to pull up inches from my face as if he'd run into a concrete wall. I got blood all over my shirt and if not for that skinhead, I'd have been knocked the fuck out and likely trampled! It was the coolest moment of my life up to then and when I looked up on stage, Exene Cervenka was smiling down at me like she'd just knighted my teenage ass.

My point in recalling this anecdote is that violence is not always bad. It's just that, like the cops at the Democratic convention the previous year, the Angels do not practice "restrained" violence, especially in a situation where there's no "out" door to escort rowdy stage crashers through onto the street where they won't have to deal with the same stage crashing culprits just showing up again two minutes later. You can only try and move them back a bit, and when the hippies are swarming all over you, it definitely is like Dawn of the freakin' Dead. I know, my band played Syracuse U's block party in the late 80s.

The sight in GIMME SHELTER of all the crazies thinking if they stagger drunkenly enough they can just force their way to the front of the stage makes for a chilling comment on when the wrong people do drugs without observing the proper rules of set and setting. And man, Woodstock or Monterey may have been cool, but Altamont was no place to be dosing your face off, naked and insane, crawling over the tops of people. If you've seen the film you should right now be thinking of that big naked chick who shows up zonked out of her mind "down the front," near the end and just starts rubbing herself on anyone in her way, zonked and oblivious to how much discomfort she's causing, acting like the humanity before her is just so much ocean to swim through, like she's a monstrous Titanic. There's no defense; punch her and she won't even feel it, and try lifting her up and out of the crowd without a crane, and PS - there is no 'out' of the crowd, no place to eject unruly fans to.

 You didn't see people crowding the stage in a mad rush over Ravi Shankar at Monterey! People were sitting in fucking chairs! There were big empty aisles... and that was only two years before Altamont. What happened?

The uncool masses who shouldn't be given drugs got some, is what happened. Drugs aren't all good like Woodstock made it seem, brown acid aside; nor all bad, like the sizzling eggs in the pan TV spots. Drugs might bring you enlightenment but you can't stay there in it forever, and that's a bum trip, so if you're an idiot, you try and take more and stay high, which never works.

One of the most beautiful love vibe sleepover parties I ever was at happened in a cabin in Vermont in 1991 in the autumn: brotherly love, pure liquid, dancing and discovery, everything became new and beautiful, steam out of the morning coffee cups like smoke signals from a far off mountain. It was so good the host had a second party with all the same people, in the winter, and this time all the same "right" ingredients added up to something that was so depressing  the acid just amplified the unbearable feeling of cut-offedness. No way to claw my way out of the saran wrap of depression, short of literally clawing my way out of my own skin. That's GIMME SHELTER. Woodstock had been trying to be a normal concert, so enough expectations were in place that the communal vibe had the element of surprise. When you expect it to all just miraculously work you're headed for a fall.

In the end it's all about balance. You can try to redress a longstanding imbalance with drugs, but you can't "outwit" balance. All good times have a bad times bill at the end, and vice versa. No pain no gain goes both ways... or to paraphrase Bill Cosby: "drugs don't kill pain, just postpone it." The marathon runner, the loyal worker and devoted soldier all demonstrate an intrinsic understanding of balance. The post-rave depression girl who pops one more hit because she just can't stand the pain, she's not helping redress the balance. You don't get a pendulum to stop swinging by pushing it harder. You have to wait.... shhhhhh. Calm down. That's what rehabs are for.... shhhh....

I wish I'd had a chance in this post to talk about how much I love seeing the Stones looking all hungover and adrift in the dirty south on their 1968 tour all through GIMME SHELTER. The scene at Muscle Shoals studio listening to "Wild Horses," which Kim Morgan writes brilliantly about here, or the emotion-cracked voice of Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who becomes kind of the de facto soul of the band via his seat at Maysles' moviola for the framing device. It's all brilliant and like all the best concert documentaries,--and like the movement itself--over much too quickly. But thank the devil for the Maysles, who make sure what we do have is fuckin' awesome. GIMME SHELTER reminds us of how the biggest highs crash hardest, while giving us priceless fly on the wall glimpses of the Stones at the pinnacle of their greatness. Best of all, it captures the peak moment when the great Satanic majesty Mick Jagger realized he'd accidentally stirred up some elder god of chaos and destruction beyond his control, a juggernaut of self-absorbed drug-guzzling pain that time would dub "the Seventies."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Acid's Greatest #1: Monterey Pop (1968)


"What's happen' brother we gotta a little thing called Foxy Lady... my fingers will move as you see but you won't you hear no sounds as you hear, but dig this..."--Jimi Hendrix (onstage at Montery Pop Festival, 1967)
"We called the purple acid tabs pressed specially to be given away at the Monterey Pop Festival: “Monterey Purple”. Jimi did seem to enjoy it- he jammed all night long in the long shed after I was able to organize a guitar and restrung it for him… I cannot speak of acid today, but in our time, acid of this quality is not the kind of thing which would attract the term ‘haze’. To call it that would have been misleading." --- Owsley Stanley (on "Purple Haze" being named after Owsley's acid which was given out free at Monterey)
Before the whole idea of rock concert festivals really took off with Woodstock, there was the amazing mind-blowing success of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and it was documented freakily by D.A. Pennebaker. An outgrowth of the Monterey Jazz and Folk festivals, which were very intellectual, beatnik-approved enterprises, the pop festival was a kind of spearhead for a new form of cross-genre free-form sound; the jazz and folk stamp of 'intellectual art' approval was finally given to "pop," an art form to be considered equivalent to any other--from opera to cubism--as culturally relevant, profound and, like, deep, baby. Prior to Monterey Pop, rock/pop was largely the province of screaming kids and mop top haircuts; the intellectual hipsters of 1965 even booed Dylan when he went electric at Newport Folk Festival. But two years or so had passed since then and America was finally 'ready' to see rock, jazz and folk all merge together in a big paisley. Oh and did I mention that the best acid in the world was being handed out at the entrances, in little purple dots scooped in handfuls out of big buckets, like penny candy to an endless parade of trick or treaters? Mmmmmm, purple.

And to prove acid made you groovy, the whole event went off with poetic grace and perfection and is all captured beautifully on the D.A. Pennebaker documentary, MONTEREY POP, so even if you weren't there, you can always go visit, like, back through time... via the film! There's none of the bad tripping and face clawing or Hells Angels bashing that would make Altamont such a disaster; no hairy nudists doing yoga or rambling stage announcements like at Woodstock, just Owsley's purple purity and enough chairs for everyone to sit down and zone out rather than having to stand all freakin' day, no rocking on your feet to keep them from hurting. The vibes were so good at Monterey that the musicians themselves transformed their performances to reflect each other's, the sound was changing just from having such a perfect audience. By the end of the three days, the vibe was so strong it transformed the very essence of pop and rock music forever, from dorky to something enlightening and dangerous.


If you're watching the film now, decades later, on acid, you can still feel the immediacy, the openness, and if you get lost, the constant cutting to enraptured beautiful female faces in the crowd will bring you back and glue you to your chair with warm sexual-maternal epoxy. The fuzzy feedback drenching of Hendrix comes in later and wipes all the blood away and leaves just a neck and a cigarette where your head has been. And then... then... now... Ravi Shankar starts.


At first it's just Indian raga music playing as a roving camera tracks its way down the aisles of the festival seating area. Everyone seems a big hung over and bleary-eyed from the past two days; some are half-asleep in each others' arms, buried blankets, smoking off into space. Only gradually over the 18 minute-long excerpt of Shankar's four hour set do we begin to even realize someone's onstage. By the time we see him-- his beautiful, vaguely Satanic-looking brown face, rapt in the spiritual ecstasy--we're hooked. The music has re-ignited our burnt-out prana for one last roll, and then the flame lights up the chakras of the whole crowd for one final collective flash of evolutionary prana, into a spiritual realm now truly global in its spread. No one would have been surprised if aliens came down at the end to welcome us finally into the galactic brotherhood. And after them a still wider radius, God's own God, endless circles in and back around.

Shankar himself must have seemed pretty alien, for this was long before yoga's popularity or New Age anything. Seeing Shankar's massive and formidable-looking sitar for the first time, on acid, must have  felt like seeing a giant black centipede make love to the fingers of an ageless wizard. After three days of dorky guys in flower face paint standing around wonking electric guitars, suddenly vision itself us dissolved into the nether regions, the great beyond, the Burroughs-ian interzone of NAKED LUNCH. 

The eerie droning, spine-tingling sound of the sitar is somewhere between a flanger-pedaled electric guitar and a barber's electric razor buzzing on the back of your neck, and that's when you're straight! On acid the sitar's otherworldly tones are no less accessible or strange than anything else that's come before in the more melodic tradition in the festival, from the sonic feedback textures of Hendrix to the gentle entwined harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel. Acid makes the normal completely strange and the strange... whoa. At the climax of Shankar's raga the audience is suddenly caught completely up in this onstage frenzy: precision ecstasy so mind-boggling that the close-ups of Shankar's finger-picking hand just show a hummingbird blur.


Of course there are musical high (way high) points other than Shankar: Janis Joplin's career-making poetic passion and mytho-bluesetic fury of "Ball and Chain" being one of my all-time favorite concert moments, and low points (Country Joe's "psychedelic" instrumental is nice but sounds dated, even under the influence). But the lows aren't very low and the highs are so mind-bogglingly high that you may as well forget trying to top them, at least as far as concert films go. The songs all fit together with the imagery both on and offstage thanks to seamless, lyserigically inspired editing and groovy lightshow projections creating hall of mirror linkage. There are so many beautiful crazily dressed people just grooving and being themselves here that the film never gets boring no matter how many times you see it. A continual wellspring of love vibes, a freeze frame fountain of eternal youth, even though several of the top players would soon be dead they're not dead here, not yet. Nor is the crowd shambling bugged-out zombies they would become once Owsley wasn't there to ensure an LSD gold standard.

Pennebaker shot the film by using synced sound with numerous roving 16mm color cameras. The result allows him to cut amongst a wide range of material and have it all fit, so it takes a lit mind to perhaps divulge just what his hang-ups are, since it flows so well, it's just about love, baby! That's why it can't fail, why it can't be anything but terrific. The love Pennebaker has for the material is achingly clear. He's not afraid to cut from the middle of one song to the middle of another by a completely different artist if it works, or linger on Janis' feet during half her song, and the result makes perfect sense in a kind of drugged chronology of memory way. This is what recollections of a concert are like if you were there: faces, fur hats (the 1950s fake fur Daniel Boone hat craze had undoubtedly ensured the Haight-Ashbury vintage stores were well-stocked), psychedelic art for sale outside along the fence, light shows, colorful plumage, Brian Jones. 

Speaking of Papa John, he was one of the founders of the festival and you can tell by his eyes when his band, the Mamas and the Papas, are playing that he's having a blast. Re-watching this recently with someone I totally dig (and who digs the Mamas and the Papas), I saw them in a whole new light: Over the years I had come to consider their songs mere filler, but with a cute Mamas and the Papas fan by my side I let go of worldly cynicism and found myself swooning for their passionate but sweetly laid-back harmonies. All it took was to let go of the way I'd learned to tune out "Monday Monday - Bah Bah" on FM radio all my life, and to allow myself to hear them again as if for the first time. Isn't that what it's all about, anyway?

One thing we've kind of forgotten in our age of mercurial one hit rock stars is that before 1967 folk acts like Peter, Paul and Mary used to be on every cool person's LP player. In other words, real cool is totally sweet and open, not guarded and brooding. When Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sing "Homeward Bound" you can hear their love for the music, the crowd, and each other in the minute mellow of their combined voices; every syllable is completely in the moment. These artists love singing together. They do it well and they know the songs, both lyrically and as pure music. Their faces light up with the joy of harmonizing, the joy of being good at something, as opposed to the "here I am, ladiez! Let me hear you say 'Hey, Ho!'" of our tru-tone-deaf pop stars today.

Of the four main singers in the Mamas and the Papas, Mama Cass is the only heavy mama and yet the band all wear floor-length mu-mus for what I can only assume is a gesture of solidarity; they love her so much they widen themselves just so she never thinks she doesn't belong. Even when they sing "The Joke's on You," a combination critique of liberal naiveté and acidic breakup speech. With the Mamas and the Papas, even a bad break-up song overflows with free-spirited love, while in the music of the disillusioned eras to follow, even love songs sound gloomy and dispirited. Which way would you rather have it? Wouldn't it be great if Owlsey brought his purples to a Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes show? Damn, man.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sparagmos A-Go-Go: SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1958)


"Know how I'd like to die? I want to be ripped apart by wild animals" -Jerry (Annie Hall, 1977)

There are, Jerry aside, few of us who are consumed by the idea of being ripped apart and/or devoured by wild animals. What Jerry is doing with the above quote is trying to blow Annie's mind, to seduce her with his LA sexy Jim Morrison-esque chutzpah, but even the most lizard kingly of poets dreaded being ripped apart when push came to shove, and of course I'm referring to Sebastian in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1958).

Incredible fear can bring with it a queasy sexy charge, if you can remember a low spinal vibration when imagining being spanked as a kid (far different than actually being spanked, mind you) then you know imagining pain has a queasy kick, for us poets especially. We can feel it always about to happen right at the corner of our psyches and in our saliva, a sense of disintegration familiar to psychedelic warriors in the temporarily bad trip way where you do often feel like you're being ripped apart by wild animals (or humans), psychically, all the time, whether by Nevada desert bats, bugs in the skin, invisible werewolf cops, Tibetan demons, wild dogs, zombies, clones, giant vagina dentatas, or in my case, angry three foot tall Japanese ghosts salarymen shaking my hand over and over like an air pump, gradually inflating me to capitalist bloat-style blimp as their hands pump mine and gradually morph into a giant phallic oil pipe javelin.. until I exploded... in the shower.

Tennessee Williams knows the feeling. You can tell in the way he blurs that sadomasochistic line between fear and desire in many of his plays; his demons precede the debauched white-faced, black leather-clad monsters of HELLRAISER by 30 years, with scenes like: the rape in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE; the shattering final shot of ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE; the (if the censors hadn't cut it first) castration of Paul Newman at the end of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. In Williams' world there's no such thing as a bad sensation, just peaks of crucifixion-level intensity at the climactic end of the spectrum (this is especially true through the lens of rough trade devotees).  The only truly bad sensation is the despair comes from the numbness of isolation and drifting, the fear of winding up adrift in a boat becalmed, the pain of soul when not even the birds want to peck at you. It's that despair Williams truly fears, a fear that makes the focused attention of cannibal rent boys a luxury by contrast.



Directed by Joseph Manckiewicz from Williams' original one-act play brilliantly adapted by Gore Vidal, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER is the kind of thing that would freak people out even today, unless it was shot by George Romero or Dario Argento and all the cannibalism was actually shown, hence giving it a drive-in context. Then, somehow, it would be okay... but as it is, the film's artsy thespian stamp ensures that even the most squeamish of bourgeoisie have to see it all the way through, forced--almost like Katharine Hepburn's insane matriarch--to hear to the vicious incestuous, homosexual truth as told by Liz Taylor under hypnosis. And since it's spoken, and only related via metonym and metaphor (hands, legs, instruments, birds), the flashbacks play more like a Hitchcock or Bergman dream sequence than a traumatic reality or more to the point, it shows there is no difference.

The terrible fate of Sebastian mirrors several mythic archetypal sacrificial moments (namely Euripides' Bacchae) involving crows, youths, implied homosexuality, and ritualistic violence. Violet tries to make the "real" event in Williams' story seem a dead myth, a torture-porn fiction, rather than a living truth. But in flashbacks of washed-out poetry, our senses are blasted by the hot sight of Liz Taylor gradually releasing her gorgeous black out from under a tacky bathing cap, squirming in the surf in a revealing white bikini and inciting us into a horny cannibal frenzy (that image was the selling point of the film). The young bucks of the town that clamor against the private beach fence as they ogle her create a freakish class divide / mirror / screen dichotomy - as if these boys could be the audience around us in the theater, or rather we become them, joining the slavering nameless throng climbing over each other to get a better view!

But this is a talking cure movie and, as I say, the main horrors are spoken of not seen. First, Violet describes the spectacle of hatching day in the Galapagos and then relates it to Monty Clift's venerable shrink; Liz Taylor witnesses and reports Sebastian's own similar end for the climax. Monty Clift's job as analyst then becomes acting as witness to these women discussing the horrors of the real, the obscene existential mouth which devours itself in a churning, massive, oceanic ouroboros. Both Catherine and Violet wind up lambs in a kind of dual sacrificial ceremony, performing the horror of watching and relating a sacrifice for a (male, presumably 'civilized') audience whose reaction is meant to be one of horror, like the way female performance artist cover themselves in blood and chocolate syrup in the 1980s. It's real return of the repressed abject menstruation shit, man, and I'm not knocking it. It's a closure, redressing the sins of our hear-no-feminine-napkin-application-procedure evil forefathers. The patriarchal rep (Clift) hears the truth of the hysterical symptom (Violet's denial) and thus the scene is cured. No wonder 1950s America loved Freud! He gave both genders an out: he mediated the mounting bedroom cold war by just keeping everybody talking.

Williams' own real life sexual interests followed the Greek ideal, aiding no doubt in his profound grasp of Greek tragedy's ability to explain the cosmos in terms of Apollonian pretty boys. Sacrificed to ensure the harvest, Sebastian hovers over the action like Poe's Lenore or the dominating spirit of REBECCA. What does he look like? We don't even know, never see a picture. I, for one, visualize a mix of Oscar Wilde and Alain Delon, someone too modern for their time, and who thus we think of as straddlers of past and future. Even the title, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, carries a time-travel vibe, like Phillip K. Dick's sci fi book NOW WAIT TIL LAST YEAR and indicates the exact kind of transcendence of space and time.

Kim Morgan notes:
The picture has it all -- Kate Hepburn at her most evil scene chomping best, perpetual fag-hag Liz Taylor donning not only the "it" bathing suit but being the "it" woman to procure young men for her chicken-hawk, native sodomizing cousin. Insane asylums, lobotomies, creepy Venus flytrap Gothic gardens, the Galapagos Islands, cannibalization! And then there's the beautiful Montgomery Clift, post accident (I happen to think he's still gorgeous -- just broken and more vulnerable) as Liz's supportive shrink (can you imagine Monty as your shrink? Wait a second...I totally can and wish he was). The movie finds the deliciously named Violet Venable (Hepburn) as a New Orleans widow unnaturally obsessed with her "poet" son Sebastian, who died while on vacation with her gorgeous niece Catherine (Taylor). I love how impeccably formal, insanely eccentric (she comes down to greet people in an elevator and has a garden filled with monstrous plants) and downright sick this woman is; her fixation on Sebastian being Oedipal with a capital O. But pretty Catherine's thoughtful shrink Monty will get to the bottom of this poisoned well leading to the movies memorable blood-curdling scream of "Help!"
(Sunset Gun, Three Obsessions, August 5, 2008)

The whole structure of "Big Chill" kind of dramas, where the action centers around someone recently or long-since dead and therefore unseen is a big thing with Williams: Blanche natters incessantly about her long-dead lover who couldn't get it up cuz he was queer and thus shot himself in STREETCAR; Anna Magnani worships the memory of her late stud husband in THE ROSE TATTOO; Fred's dead at the start of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, and who could forget old Skipper in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, but none of them can hold a candle to the evil and eloquently damned Sebastian, who for total dominance over the living is as spectral as a Poe heroine.

His mother Violet then is both Sebastian's symbolic killer and the force that kept him from harm on all the other vacations, and the force that keeps his name on everyone's lips... even in death. She's like a vampire protecting her prey from other hustlers. When Sebastian dies because it's becasue Violet's not around to save him and he forgot all the things he never learned while being under her wing when other boys were negotiating narrow streets on foot, and otherwise avoiding the painful fate of the cannibal crockpot.

Perhaps because of their own outsider statuses via homosexuality and alcoholism, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal could both really stare wide-eyed into the hellish morass that represents the ultimate end-game of rich jet set debauchery, the "okay let's take off the kid gloves" kind of thing involved in the real rough leather trade and all the other stuff Camille Paglia writes about. Here's an excerpt of Paglia talking about the greatness of Tennessee Williams in that regard:
If we are ever to see a revival of artistry, young film-makers must study and absorb the great movie past. To build on the small, weak, one-dimensional films of the 1980s and '90s is a dead end. The same thing with writing: if young people simply draw on the shallow, cynical, jargon-clotted postmodernism of the 1980s and '90s, they'll produce nothing that will last.

This is why I exalt Tennessee Williams as a supreme role model: he was openly gay (daring at the time) but never ghettoized himself. He lived in the real world and thought and felt in passionate, universal terms — which is why he created titanic characters who have had worldwide impact and who are still stunningly alive.
(Bright Lights Film Journal, #54, 2006)

Liz Taylor--a titanic, stunningly alive character with worldwide impact herself, seems to have been a kind of protean cine-muse to Williams, and one much more magnetic than Magnani, and much more opinionated and loud about it than most of the screen goddesses in her league. Totally unafraid to get in there and shake it in all senses of the word, from root to crown chakra (with a long pause at the hips), Liz's characters clash with patriarchy and then withdraw to fight again, like Sung Tzu says to do in ART OF WAR! Take GIANT, for example, where she maneuvers around the end zones at her newfound homeland Texas' narrow-minded patriarchal ways, and everyone of the old guard just has to put up with it. None of their usual patronizing crap works, even when she's way out of line they can't rope her in. She lets them win a hand or two, but never stops wearing them down, until they surrender like aggressive dogs to Cesar Milan in the Dog Whisperer. Like said dogs, these Texans realize they love her for her ability to be assertive without being aggressive, and she becomes the social mother conscience for all of Rich Oil Texas. She creates a new respect and admiration for the voice of dissent. It's okay to walk away having lost a fight with Liz Taylor. She'll let you win the next one.

SUMMER's Catherine isn't allowed to know this kind of power. When she parades around in negligees or bathing suits, it's both a mythic Venus on the half-shell moment and a scream for help; she wants you to see how desperately out of place she feels, bu you can only notice how perfectly in place every part of her actually is. She needs a Rock Hudson around who she can bounce off of and claw at and know he'll stick around regardless. She needs a man to see the limitless compassion and love behind all the compulsive attention-seeking. Monty Clift fits this role beautifully. One of my favorite moments is when she kisses him impulsively during their therapy and he neither rejects nor accepts to go any further, or back for that matter, saying "why not? It was a friendly kiss." He lets it affect him, but later when she grabs him and they kiss we never quite see how he responds. So many similar scenes in films blow this opportunity to dissolve phony social dualities between authority figure and lover, social order/propriety and chthonic carnal desire; the desire of the higher self and the desire of the man, as if any response other than nun-like rejection is considered amoral. Catherine's 'nymphomania' could be unknowingly encouraged to devolve into degeneracy by the nuns strictly enforced codes of shame and negative reinforcement coupled to fast profits ala BUTTERFIELD 8, so when Monty responds in this way, the chain is short-circuited and she's free. Who wouldn't go crazy if they took away your smoking privileges?


Yes, this film makes you proud to be a smoker. It's cigarettes ultimately that bond Catherine with Monty's doctor and drive the mean nun from the room. And like cigarettes, it only gets better with repeat viewings, wherein you smoke along with the action, addicted and decaying... until all the cigarettes are taken out digitally and replaced with delicious chocolate candies!

A unique film, SUMMER's only competition in whatever genre it invented is Bergman's PERSONA (1966), which similarly deconstructs the nature of art vs. recollection, image vs. verbal description, and the way image becomes truth via personally recounted testimonies of unfettered lust under blazing afternoon suns. Stories told verbally (but not seen) of unchained desire prove more arousing and dangerous than mere soft core footage shot through gauze, as it turns out, unless you're on acid maybe, but even on acid you just like it for the rhythmic breathing and colors; the image is inherently obscene to you by then anyway, it seems always about to overflow, eventually ripping open the screen to reveal the raw horror of real, of archetypal myth writ low to base animal and vegetable decay. But whereas PERSONA delves into abstract meditation and whereas something like the DEAD trilogy shows the horror of the animal and vegetable decay but skips the post-modern ripped screen artsiness, SUMMER trumps all by showing the rip AND the screen and then showing Liz Taylor describe it under a heat lamp. The result is as devastating and cathartic as a dozen art and/or horror films combined. You know how I'd like to die? Watching SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Acid Cinema Special Edition: The VIETNAM Experience (Part 1)


The topic of critical backlash against INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is still hot two weeks after the film opened, and seems aimed primarily at the "light" portrayal of the plight of the Jewish people under Nazism, and the Jewish-American commando squad's glorified brutality-- the "fire with double-fire" approach. These issues point me to a dilemma that afflicts many Americans, the refusal to see beyond the bogus facade of "civilized morals"--even when their own lives hang in the balance.

When Wes Craven or Charles Bronson turn the other cheek back around and start blasting and hacking, we're supposed to go "oh how quickly civilized behavior falls to reveal the savage!" and supposedly go home and feel bad about how much we enjoyed seeing it happen. But to me, I just feel bad that the sucker vacationers in American horror and revenge movies don't start reverting to savagery fast enough, and when they do, there's little celebration of their return to the true wilderness of the chthonic. Once you realize mom's not coming to help you, or any cops, and you fight back, you can stop crying and cringing. It happens automatically--like when a kid sent to his room until he stops crying suddenly realizes he's stopped crying. Hollywood's forgotten or doesn't want to remember this, it still thinks mom will come if it just cries and screams long enough. Now when the final girl finally kills the slasher, she no longer bellows her victory cry; instead she reverts back to being a frazzled whiner... and it all leads me to ask why and realize that my Acid Movie thread must now address Vietnam.

The story of acid in the America of the 1960s is a story of a nation in conflict between a renewed lust for life and an enhanced drive towards death, between the rebels and the republic, the old guard Don Draper types clinging by their fingernails to the 1950s American dream as it dissolves around them, and the crazy peaceniks mocking and deriding everything that dream stood for. While dad swills a beer and cheers the bombers on the news, his kids are out in Central Park, dropping tabs and waving peace signs. Seldom before or since in American history has the line between old and young, life and death, love and hate, conformity and free-thinking, been so sharply and clear drawn. And in the field of combat, the same line existed between delusional top brass notions of "heart and minds" and the real blood-and-ambiguity-drenched quagmire of the killing field.

LSD erased all those lines...as well as all other artificial social constructs. It could make you very peaceful with yourself as you committed horrific violence against yourself or others, merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream of disconnect... even killing can be an expression of love, just ask the Manson family, or the babysitter nuking the kid in the microwave, or Native Americans who apologize to the deer as they kill it, and sing its praises, understanding that they're killing themselves. All murder is just projected suicide; the Native American's knew we always only ever eat ourselves. With acid, we knew it too.


Taking acid certainly could prove a boost to your perception, heightening and sharpening your senses, whether over in the war or at home, and what seemed like unshakable bedrocks only hours before: marriage, church, state, government, patriarchy, tradition became suddenly clownish, yesterday's papers, tools of hypnosis to keep the cattle placid. Acid made killing 'real' to non-combatants because it shuckered one loose from the grip of the patriarchy, helped you think like the enemy, or how you imagined the enemy thought, slinking through the jungle, hard-wired and alive to every flapping beetle wing and blowing leaf, and best of all, free of all the moral inhibitions about killing people you don't know. Smashing open an innocent farmer's face with the butt of your rifle would be intolerable sober, but is just another freaky thing to trip out once you surrender to the fact that you're living in a world... of... shit, as Private Pyle puts it in FULL METAL JACKET (1987).

An integral -- though demonized by the liberal press-- part of boot camp is hazing, the beating of new cadets with soaps wrapped in towels, to toughen them up, give them a face-to-face taste with unendurable pain, the kind that transforms you, darkens you, makes you less afraid since you know it can't get any worse. Anything less than that level of prolonged and traumatic beating up is just business as usual from then on; the volume is turned way down. It's nothing new, and corresponds to Native American rituals that involve hanging by pierced shoulder muscles until you see your white buffalo vision and know you are a man. Or, you could just try taking too much acid, a sort of self-medicated hazing. Either way, you have to do something to free yourself from living life in a state of fear-based wussiness... it takes a jolt to your whole body-mind-spirit in order to shake the civilized cowardice out of a man, to sever all apron string breadcrumb trails back to moms, that's a fact. You can't wait to turn savage after you're savagely killed, you have to be already on fire to fight fire with fire.

In Private Pyle's case it works all too well, but he doesn't even wait to get to the jungle before he has to start blasting. There's always that one dopey kid in your circle who makes the mistake of letting the newly freed inner demon take over completely, rather than just harnessing its energy. This dopey Pyle-type always has to do something stupid like mess with the cops and get you all arrested and validate drugs being illegal in the first place, or talk back to the judge, try and rape an elderly lady in the middle of the park, or play one last round of Russian roulette.


But if you do it right and stay open to change, just allow the demon to have a share in the company and not full ownership, then you're in business. You can let the demon out when you need to be cold and merciless, such as in breaking up with a long-time lover or breaking a dog's neck to put it out of its misery after you accidentally run it over on the side of the road, or pulling the plug on grandma; that's all important stuff and the demon can make it all possible. With the demon at the reins, hearing someone plead for their life doesn't break your heart anymore; it makes you amused and disgusted at their cowardice. Don't they see that death is no different than life? That they're just scared of the unknown, of change? Like a kid trying to talk his mom out of his having to leave for the first day of school? They're just scared to die, ego death fear, the way a person whose never dropped acid is afraid to try it. When your brain is exploding with the eternity of existence, what is war but an amusement park, a rollercoaster on which you give your war shout and wave your hands because if you don't you'll probably scream like a Poe character buried alive.


In Oliver Stone's PLATOON (1986) the life/death line is drawn between the "cool" soldiers who smoke pot and dance and sing like a bunch of ANIMAL HOUSE meets MASH regulars, headed by Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) vs. the bourbon-swilling conservatives, represented by Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). You may be too young to remember, but PLATOON really hit a national nerve when it came out in 1986. Vietnam vets would see it and cry afterward, right in the theater, finally recognizing and then releasing some of the horror they had been holding in for so long. I was a sophomore in college and our homework in America in the 1960s class was to somehow get out to the off-campus theater and see it, and so my gang of hippies and I figured, why not eat mushrooms beforehand? We called a cab, piled in, and the cool driver takes one look at our tie-dyes and says "go ahead and smoke a joint if you want, I could stand some myself." We knew this homework assignment had become a spiritually-sanctioned vision quest!


For me, it was a brilliant descent into a palpable madness of paranoia and nihilism. In the surround-sound theater I could sense every bug, every snap of a twig in the jungles all around me. The foley work was amazing, buzzing gnats slowly moving around and every possible rustle of leaves might mean your death. Heightened senses were in order, and heightened senses we had. Interestingly, some of my party had to leave for awhile during the Mai Lai massacre segment, but I was really into it... It was that feeling of "why not just kill 'em all?" that comes from being pushed past your limits, the realization that insanity has a purpose, a grisly kind of freedom (I was 19 and just at the right age for the draft if there was one) that comes from "nothing left to lose." The mushrooms had freed me to see and feel this, had shown me the ambivalent killer I once was in lives past and maybe future.


This "death-embracing" aspect of LSD is something America never has been able to reconcile with its more peaceful half, just throwing baby and bathwater alike into prison and barring the door on any further conversation, at least in the US. In England the late-inning demonizing was taken with a grain of salt, and the Nietzschean rebirth from civilized wanker into super-warrior thing appears in British films to this day. Leo DiCaprio taps into it for his psychedelic interlude during a stretch of THE BEACH (2000) and Cillian Murphy finds his inner psycho for the climax of 28 DAYS LATER (2002). Shauna Macdonald (above) experiences a similar death/rebirth when falling into a pit of menstrual blood signifier slime in THE DESCENT (2005). It's the last straw of horror that snaps her free into CARRIE-style warrior woman.


The Japanese have always been fans of this conversion and the slew of samurai films such as SWORD OF DOOM (1966) illustrate a cosmic understanding of the difference between sympathy and compassion. The antihero main character played by Tatsuya Nakadai, for example, kills a weary old man he meets on a hill, just because he seems to be a burden to his granddaughter. In sword battle contests he only cares about perfection of technique, barely noticing the corpses he leaves in his wake. Perhaps the Japanese, British, and Germans for that matter, are just a little better at "going there." May I venture to guess it comes from being bombed?

But Americans can't abide that kind of freedom from moral head games without a little help from their lysergic friends. They need far more push than just a dip in a slime pool to shed their civilized moral paralysis, as we see in their terror of issues like euthanasia, castration and abortion, where comatose, paralyzed, dying patients are kept alive for years, and convicted sex offenders begging to be castrated are turned down flat. Every hospital should have a man like Willard/Kurz in APOCALYPSE NOW or SWORD OF DOOM's Tatsuya Nakadai (above) to walk through the wards and dispassionately off the incurably sick or comatose, castrating and severing and doing whatever needs to be done. But it's shocking just to think of it; we are too scared to face death square in the eye! Won't someone think of the children!!?!?! BUT, we do have Vietnam, the 'state of mind' where American hypocrisy collapses on itself and leaves you standing there in the bush with a gun in your hand, clinically insane from lack of sleep, and head full of contradictory orders.


APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) is the ultimate trip for Vietnam, the 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY of war films, updating the original acid story, Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS to accommodate a broad spectrum of black comic situations. Brando's ambiguity as Kurz in the last section is always a bit of a let-down to what came before. The peaks happen often: the Colonel Kilgore scenes of course, and the scene that's preceded by Lance mentioning to Frederic Forrest as they're cruising up to the final checkpoint, beyond which is Cambodia, "You know that last tab of acid I had? I dropped it." Forrest replies, as if barely listening, "Far out." Willard (Martin Sheen) gets off the boat, bringing Lance with him like a magic protection symbol, like the white cloth pinned to the nurse's jacket in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Everyone at this bridge seems lost and abandoned ("Who's in charge here?" "Ain't you?") until they find a taciturn spectral presence named Roach (the Duane Jones zombie figure equivalent from IWAZ) who they bring out of his pot smoke and Hendrix-filled cubby hole so he can take out a crazed VC sniper off in the distance. "He's close man... real... close", says the Roach, his eyes glazed over with the 1000 yard stare. He loads his grenade launcher and just fires it straight up into the air without even looking, BAM, all is quiet, no more sniper. Roach's face barely changes except to snarl a bit at the end as he whispers, "motherfucker."


"Soldier," an impressed but utterly spooked Willard asks him. "Do you know who's in charge here?"

The Roach looks at him, "Yeah." and exits. What does the Roach mean? the devil? the lord of chaos? Or something even more bizarre, past duality, the Kali energy loosed upon the world. Roach is the end point of the Lance and Bunny mystical surrender/conversion... the ultimate acid soldier... his very name is synonymous with adaptation and survival, the Roach will inherit the earth and in his stoned, gone expression is the true spirit of the Vietnam War.

Willard's question is, to Roach, just the same as Jimi Hendrix's question in that song, "But first are you experienced?" The answer to both is the same: "yeah." (Roach looks a lot like Hendrix might). No doubt that Roach is "experienced."

Earlier in the film we see the crew panic and machine gun a boat full of Vietnamese, but it's they who then label Willard the cold blooded killer when he shoots the sole wounded survivor. Willard notes that the American approach to Vietnam was "to shoot you full of holes and then give you a band-aid." and that taking down Kurz for killing a few suspected spies is "like passing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500."

According to the documentary, HEART OF DARKNESS, Coppola, cast and crew did lots of acid on set in the Philippines and you can feel it in the film's pulsing dissolves and apocalyptic imagery. Similarly, for PLATOON, Oliver Stone was actually in Vietnam, on acid. In each case you can feel the understanding of the killer instinct and the refusal to condemn it in the hypocritical "give 'em a band-aid" way of the American social structures. THE DEER HUNTER focuses on the moment of facing this fear of death, but it never gets past it. Walken's addiction to Russian Roulette indicates a kind of suicidal ideation autopilot. But the moods of APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON move beyond fear of death and into deep archetypal breakdown like true acid poetry.

In the end, you need to overcome your fear of death in order to become a true warrior. For some reason the bulk of cowardly Middle America thinks of that as somehow treason against humanity, and yet LSD would make for better soldiers. Almost all the people who want drugs to stay illegal have never tried them. NRA forever! People who want guns illegal don't own one. They're against the death penalty because their friend or family was never murdered.

Who's in charge here? Anyone with the balls to let go of fear and stick out their tongue for the real Eucharist. As Brando advises in APOCALYPSE NOW, "you must make a friend... of horror."