In honor of Moon in the Gutter's Paul Thomas Anderson blogathon, here's one of my early from the 2007 Academy Award era... a bold pronouncement that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD indicated a return of the repressed wild man archetype, i.e. the force sought by the Men's Movement:
(originally posted in Bright Lights After Dark 3/08)
We’ve had the Night of the Iguana, the Day of the Locust and since around 1989, we’ve had the years of the disaffected sheep. Now I’d say 2007 Oscar Night heralds the Age of the Wildman.
We’ve got two movies up for big awards that seem of wed together already by primal masculine force: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Both have been supplying many men who have seen them with some missing nutrient in their diets.. they’ve been starving for it without even knowing it was missing.
What is this wild man force and how did we lose it? We had it in Jim Morrison, Robert Bly, Ken Kesey, Nicholson, Brando, Robards– we lost it in the blinding Tom Cruise flash and lo, there was pouffy hair and loud jackets and closeted queers confusing straight dudes into thinking wearing eye liner was punk rock. Then came the 1990s, dot-coms and a crushing need to stay edgy even with two kids and six figures. But let’s face it, the masculine archetype fisher king is going to lie around in defeat eventually, it’s the nature of the seasons. The only difference is in the spring-back -- how far down you hold the Nerf ball under the water before it shoots up again. The longer man festers in his cubicle the louder the explosion when the Iron John yang energy comes hammering up out of the ground in great black oil sperm of my vengeance-style bit torrents and old-testament oratory.
Men who have grown soft with unearned privilege will probably not like Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD and are probably the reason Brolin’s not even nominated. The return of the true king is never welcomed by the pretender to the throne. The haters thought this sort of mustachioed hombre long vanished. Now he’s back, covered in the dirt used to bury him, but his eyes are burning through the dust with the fire of a thousand Bronsons!
I guess part of it for both Brolin and Lewis is that they’ve been away from Hollywood for awhile, Lewis cobbling in Italy and Brolin wandering through Ireland with his young 'uns. Stay in Tinseltown too long and even the noblest of men can turn into needy eaters in need of a good Camille Paglia-style beatdown. Lewis and Brolin have the sense to wander out into the desert when they sense themselves growing soft with money and fame. This wandering away from civilization and its tiresome trappings for communion with the wildness of nature — this was once part of something known as the Men’s Movement, around the late 1980s--early 1990s. It was a time when men went into the woods to beat drums and howl and shed their tired sad sack personae; a time before the age of Irony, before changing times made masculinity and fatherhood something to hide the way witches had to hide from the inquisition. Well, we see now that the wildman was just in orbit – he’s returned with the tick-tock precision of Daniel Plainview’s oil pumps!
as you can tell by my vigorous enthusiasm, I was totally hoping for something that actually did happen the following year with films like THE WRESTLER and has since vanished as the Coens went back to torturing wusses and the Rom-Coms and Cera-Eisenbergs have flooded the gates, but they're out there.... come back wildmen! So later in 2008 I wrote a piece riffing on Manny Farber's White Elephant art vs. Termite Art: THE TERMITES OF PLAINVIEW:
The few critics and artists who dismiss THERE WILL BE BLOOD as undeserving of its hype–due to story weaknesses or hammy acting, usually–tend to be the ones who are “trying” to be different, and so would pay less respect to the fearless soul searchers, explorers, depth-sounders and kamikaze love hipsters like Welles and Godard, Gondry, Ray, Hawks, Tarantino, Baumbach and Martel, and more to the “workmanlike” mapper precision of the Coen Brothers, Kubrick, Spielberg, Ford, Truffaut, Hitchcock, Payne–those who perfect the lines and feel out new fissures in the rock that the explorers have excavated, that Manny Farber’s termites have eaten through. For fans of the mappers, the gaping plot holes, inconsistencies of style and meaning and haphazard story construction of the explorers–the ungodly mess, in short–can be unforgivable. For we lovers of the explorers, any story holes can be stepped over without the smallest break in our stride as we follow the brave deep into the cinematic danger zone; we'd rather get lost in the woods than a lovely elaborate hedge maze. There’s some that try to control it, quench it, put it out, and there’s some that go wild-eyed and giggling, cooing and tittering like the late beloved Richard Widmark.
A unique example to discuss of a mapper and explorer rolled into one would be John Huston. His films tend to be adaptations of classic “explorer” works: UNDER THE VOLCANO is a fine example of Huston being too busy getting period details of 1933 Mexico down, polishing up the quaint old cars and setting his actors to staggering just so, that he misses the thrust of Lowry’s novel, which is as an apocalyptic mirage of one man’s drunken dying soul bleeding into those around him and its reflection in the tide of fascism and blah blah. One mustn’t put modern in with the classical, or must one?
A “classic” example of the explorer vs. mapper would be Welles’ MACBETH vs. Olivier’s HAMLET (both 1948). Olivier’s film (left) is a stunning masterwork with each line of text lovingly orated and the deep shadow lines visible all the way in the back of the cavernous sets. There’s plenty of deep focus expressionism for those who like that sort of thing, but not enough to drown the bard in Ophelia’s bathwater, so to speak. Welles’ MACBETH on the other hand is a roaring, sweaty delirious fever dream-catastrophe where a good chunk of the dialogue tends to be inaudible under scratchy recording and thick brogues (Welles famously pre-recorded the dialogue and monologues and made his actors lip-sync). Just take a look below at that outrageous hat!
Welles plays Macbeth like someone just waking up in the drunk tank after a three-day meth binge. Soldiers cast in hand-me-downs from Republic studios old serials seem to drip down from their weird cavern pathways onto him, like expressionist maggots from a Polanski skyway. Welles shivers with horror like he's hoping if he acts like its a nightmare he'll wake up and have blood-free hands. His Macbeth bellows great lungfuls of melodious brogue, hallucinating Banquos hither an yon. He chews so much scenery he gets woozy and seems about to fall over into the witches’ bubbling pot at any second, but I’ll order Ham on Welles over Hamlet Olivier any day. There’s mad genius power with Welles; his is the termite art that never stops to count the receipts or weigh the meanings but rather plunges reckless through the walls until all is black and sweet silence. Daniel Plainview and THERE WILL BE BLOOD are like that, and for the Olivier loving mappers of the world, that's just too long-haired, indulgent, and reckless.
And God do I hate Olivier's short bangs in all his Shakespeare stuff. He looks like Sting's queer older brother, but not in a good way. HAMLET's photography is brilliant however and every word spoken goes down like a hundred dollar bottle of anything. If Victor Mature as Doc Holliday were here, good Sirs, then perhaps he could finish. I can't remember the rest!