Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Nicole Kidman, the post-modern Maya princess for the media age, has an amazing track record for playing women full of complex dichotomies that range both inside and outside the mirror of the image: TO DIE FOR (1993), DOGVILLE (2003), BIRTH (2004), and EYES WIDE SHUT (1998) are prime examples, each in its way a self-reflexive meditation on desire vs. the mechanations of reality, of the spiritual's derailment at the hands of sex. She's a hottie, tall and true, and heads above the rest. She lets herself be blankly led through life, snapping awake and lashing out like no one else, seeming to be both the best and worst actress at the same time, fearlessly sexual yet always remote, dissatisfied and in no mood to hide it, or do anything about it. She slithers between the moral poles from the shy twinkle of silent film virgins like Lillian Gish to the unapologetically homicidal sirens like Fu Manchu's daughter, Fah Lo Suee. For a prime example, please see BIRTH and play close attention to the sex scene early on, and the long take of her face at the concert (above).
Now, hold that thought while we discuss Arab extremists and the "crime" of drawing their prophet, Muhammad. First, SOUTH PARK should be allowed to poke fun at anyone without fear of terrorist attack, but at the same time, we must bear in mind that the Muslim distrust of images has a sound grounding in "reality" - that is to say, they don't want to be hypnotized into a false reality. Consider them the opposite of Kidman's split subject. It's hard for us to imagine it--all media-hypnotized as we are here in the belly of the beast--but pretend you're watching a great movie and you're really into it and suddenly it's your life, there's no more dividing up your energy between fantasy and reality. Where the split world protests their government's atrocities by getting depressed and then getting some catharsis watching stuff blow up in Bruce Willis movies, the extremists are their own Bruce Willises. For them, perhaps, explosives are less dangerous than the seductive allure of the image, of desire-driven commodification aesthetics. Earthly death is nowhere near as terrible (for them) as the soul-eating vortex of the simulacrum. And who's to say they're wrong? Plato wouldn't say they're wrong. Fuck him!
TO DIE FOR tells the story of a girl who lives and breathes the desire to do the local evening news. She sleeps her way in, blackmails her way up, and murders all the way to the top, seducing poor Joaquin Phoenix into doing her dirty work. In DOGVILLE, we see the college education of the mediated celeb – the "slumming" of the elite, seeing how the other half lives and the eventual rejection of the townie mindset, with a bullet. This leads us to BIRTH and EYES WIDE, and the bitchy end-products of the social climbing. In EYES WIDE, for example, Kidman's wealthy uptown girl bristles at the fallow narcissism of her short, wealthy husband (Tom Cruise). He's 100% in the simulacrum and she at least has one foot outside it. All she has to do to set off her man is paint a picture in his mind of her fantasy ravishment at the hands of a lusty sailor and he's off tearing up the town, or rather, sauntering up to it and when it starts to tear back, running away like a little wuss.
Kidman's reality is that she just locked eyes with the sailor in passing years ago and only imagines having the affair – a masturbation fantasy that no real sex with the man you've had a kid with can ever match. She accepts that and can live in both the imaginary and real levels, unlike say, Tom Cruise, who can't quite understand why her fantasy is so vivid in his mind. He ends up going to great lengths – renting costumes and taking cabs out to Long Island in the dead of night – to try and realize his desire so he can escape the mirror, but even then he's too uptight and bound by desire to participate, because to participate would end the fantasy and thrust him into disillusionment and the real, which is actually what he wants but he doesn't quite know it. Sadomasochism and orgies are, in the end, perhaps truly enjoyable only as literature. When you make them real, something goes missing.
I guess it makes me mad because I've done the same thing. But thanks to Lacan and Baudrillard though, it makes some sense now -- the unconscious goes to great lengths to keep you hungry for succor at all times; Tom and I both made or make the mistake of confusing the real and fantasmatic levels. When our desire suddenly meets us smack in the face, we run away before we know quite what hit us. You may know the feeling: you're single and looking for love and suddenly you lock eyes with a beautiful creature from across the room. They walk over to say hi but before they even open their mouth, you run away, blushing! Why are you such a loser? You berate yourself all night, never perhaps realizing that the berating and longing are, themselves, the whole point. Once desire is quenched it inevitably leaves an empty taste on your soul's evolutionary tongue. Your unconscious knows this, so sabotages your every step.
Observe the photo still from EYES above: Nicole fixes an earring and looks over at Cruise in the mirror as he comes towards her, his eyes flashing himself a come-on like a narcissist in a candy store. Note that we don't see the sexy Cruise persona outside of the mirror-the figure in the far right of the image above seems like someone else, his arm lumpy, his nose big, his mouth slack--it's as if he doesn't even realize there is an outside to the mirror at all and so leaves it blank. Like many actors, he sees himself from afar, the way a video gamer sees his avatar so sudden proximity exposes his Brundlefly-like nature.The veiled contempt with which she observes the scene seems to indicate she understands this split; she's outside and inside the mirror; fully conscious of her unconscious.
Validated by his medical profession, Tom thinks there is only "this" reality, the one where he is rich, good looking and sociable. To even imagine a universe where money and social standing doesn't matter is beyond him, and the film is about him coming to grips with that, trying to crash a party out of his league and otherwise fumbling with the keys to physical gratification. Thus it's with ease that Nicole sends him hurtling through the Manhattan night; all she has to do is suggest the image in the mirror could be read in an entirely different way, as a mask; once outside the costume ball his mask – his medical authority, wealth and privilege – don't mean shit.
Similarly, masks, doubles, and mirror images are all evil concepts to a fundamentalist religion wherein reuniting splits and bringing everything back to a tangible, universal real is so important, especially since the fantastic imagery being force fed to them is not "theirs" per se, but the American dream machine juggernaut that streamlines all reality into a Wal-Mart /Starbucks strip mall. Thus the threats to the makers of graven images of Muhammad stems from this line-in-the-sand approach. "Make fun of us if you want, just leave this one thing unattacked." But of course we've lost so much in gaining all our cool shit, we can't even begin to understand that kind of deep devotion. We've forgotten we have a mask on and we resent being asked to take it off just as much as the fundamentalists resent us wanting to put one on their prophet.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
The release this week of Godard's 1963 uber-artsy Vivre sa Vie ("My Life to Live!") should mean a lot to fans of French New Wave cinema, even the poseurs like me who just like it because all the women are beautiful and everyone smokes and never show their teeth, for good reason. And of all the beautiful women of the new wave, Anna Karina stands out for her unconscious savvy and button-nose cute meets existentially adrift persona. The hipster intellectual's Bardot, Karina is a mythic archetype for the ages, the poster girl for Godard's most appreciated and legendary output of the early 1960s, including Band of Outsiders, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville, A Woman is a Woman, and Made in the USA. She's beautiful in all of them, but only in My Life to Live is she elevated truly to the special realm of sacrificial object--the ultimate screen goddess set upon the altar of, forgive me for using this word, the "gaze."
blu-ray disc from Criterion, you can notice abundant new and shatteringly depressing things: the dust and emptiness of the run-down pool halls and cafe arcades; the rickety realness of old phone booths, sun-faded scotch tape marks on pinball and cigarette machines, real coffee cups glittering with thumb prints, spirits in the cigarette smoke; the terrible flatness of Parisian life witnessed through cafe windows; the narrow, sloping streets that seem to have no sky over them due to the sloping, provincial and ancient architecture encumbered with urban exhaust fume grime made so blu-ray clear in Criterion's excellent restoration that you can smell the unregulated car emissions, the tang of fresh newspapers, croissants, and coffee; the acrid haze of Gauloises -- and most of all, Anna's big round head, shorn of her girly tresses in a smart bob, like a castrated Samsonette, crowding out the space at every turn, as if we can never quite escape the perfect isolation of her cranium.
This is the most heady of all Godard's films, if you'll pardon the expression; cinematographer Raoul Coutard cuts off her chin rather than the top of her head in close-up, as if she's seeing and existing and being seen directly from her shadowed skull, a woman who like many actors and actresses, sees herself not from within or via a mirrored ego ideal but as an object of the camera's interest, 24/7, always aware of how they look related to who might be looking. Her black smooth hair fills up the foreground of the screen at least half the running time, flattening out the horizon. I never really noticed this on the crappy Koch Lorber DVD, which I thought way back in the early days, was the bees-knees. Now I wretch when I think I ever found any of it beautiful. Blu-ray makes everything shockingly apparent -- the lunch naked on the fork -- that beauty and reality's ugliness meet never to disentangle.
No matter how many times you've seen a film like this, seeing it anew on blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time. And this new first time, Vivre sa Vie depressed me like never before. One feels with this flattened image and black hole of a hair-style, trapped. Rarely does Godard show off Karina's figure in any leering sort of way, preferring to focus on her button-nose face, the shockingly tobacco-stained teeth that sometimes appear when she laughs; the way her eyes dilate in and out with a mix of fear, excitement and attraction and queasy dread when she's interviewed by her new pimp.
The issue of prostitution is very hard to deal with in a cinematic frame, especially when the woman being lowered into the seediness of it all is so beautiful and regal. It's easier when she's made up to look like a Aileen Wuornos, as I wrote in 2004 about Monster:
Prostitution is itself "acting," as in to not just engage in sex for money but also (assumedly) to seem to enjoy it. Indeed, a prostitute may actually enjoy herself during the contracted sexual act as long as she pretends she is only pretending. There may be a moment during the paid-for sexual act when the prostitute is completely "herself," which is to say, completely subsumed into her role as a sex worker pretending to enjoy sex. An actor onstage is likewise 100% safely hidden as far as drawing attention to her own enjoyment. She cab rest assured that no one on stage is going to break character and remind her she owes them money, or is gaining weight. In the entrapped stage with its dialogue already written she is free to actually become her character, in perfect safety, with no one to know when and if she crosses over into the sublime.
It is ultimately then, the lack of access to a camera that makes the prostitute "worthless" as an actress. For an audience of one there can be no Oscar.
Like Joan's, Anna's sad lonely fate is all but set in stone, and she seems to realize it both as an actress and a character. She will die or get old and pushed aside for the next generation of doomed pretty Parisian faces--Isaballe Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, for example (both of whom appear while very young in early 1980s Godard films)--but also be enshrined forever in the silver screen pantheon, an altar where her virginal beauty can be sacrificed again and again, in clearer and clearer digital reproductions, long after all of us, too, have stepped off that pirate plank into that swirling sea below.
Monday, April 19, 2010
But dig, why do we need the moralist, the conscience? What's wrong with offing the transgressors if they happen to be misogynist frat boys? Why is it that people who loved Juno hate Jennifer, and I who hated JUNO love Jennifer, oh Jenny! I can tell ya, cauze with Jennifer, Cody shows she can write dialogue without sounding like everything is in quotes.
A little hour-long masterpiece by the king of creepiness that comes highly recommended, especially for anyone whose ever been in an unstable relationship with a chick named Jennifer. I don't even want to get into the plot, suffice it to say that it's creepy, gory and explores issues of male sexism, perversion and obsessive lust like none other.
JENNIFER'S BODY (2009) Directed by Karyn Kusami:
I couldn't even get all the way through JUNO and I love Ellen Page so it figures I'd hate JENNIFER'S BODY. But it's actually not the case. Maybe my expectations were rock bottom low, and I watched it immediately after the far more depressing and vaguely similar DEADGIRL (2008), but I liked JENNIFER'S BODY. Ten minutes into it I was already jumping off the anti-Cody bandwagon.
I still am against JUNO, which to me is the movie version of that new kid in school who looks kind of old, and shows up in your home room with hip clothes six years out of style, and everyone but the teachers instantly peg her for a narc. Much as I love Ellen Page, she can't fool me. JUNO is a freaking narc. But JENNIFER'S BODY goes deep into the crucible of gender/sex-related teen horror and finds the root chords and plucks them like a magic twanger, Froggy. It knowingly nods to other films and drops arcane faux-slang, but since it's not in service of some icky agenda it strengthens its sense of otherworldly metaphor. JB plays out like a fever dream that more established women directors like Jane Campion and Catherine Breillat sometimes over-shoot but punchy little Karyn Kusama (below right) nails it and comes up with a perfect popcorn technicolor myth.
I will advise this as alternative: why don't you operate on the realistic level and take home a chick whose not as hot as Megan Fox--not even close--but who's sweet and has a nice personality? Megan Fox is supposed to be very unpleasant to work with, and a less hot chick might be nicer. Anything should be better than a snapping, filth-encrusted living dead woman with jet-black eyes and gnashing teeth to come home to every night. Good lord, it's such a depressing and strained metaphor and meanwhile sex slavery is a horrific reality. When you use ugly brutal reality as a metaphor for teenage hormonal longing, that's moving in the opposite direction of what metaphor is all about!
I appreciate what I think the DEADGIRL people were trying to do. I was dimly aware of some feminist subtext in there somewhere, some critique of male objectification, but in the end it's just a stream of dank basement scenes of dislikable male characters spewing some well-written gutter dialogue. The worst is the brooding nominal hero who spends his days behind library stacks while his lady love does homework with her jock boyfriend. Other outcast horndogs include a sniveling skate rat, and as the gone from geek-to-ghoul local douche-bag--a variation of Arnie in CHRISTINE (1983)--a very cool and interesting actor I've never seen before, Noah Segan. I loved his Mike Nesmith-style southern twang, which interestingly was the same exact twang Alexis Kanner spoke with in GOODBYE GEMINI , which I saw just the night before! Another plus is the poorly rendered but admirably conceived oral castration scene and I'll confess those sort of things always cheer me up when I'm feeling ashamed of my gender and its inherent objectives. Apparently this drubbed up a lot of internet debates, so I'll leave you with a nice quote from Salon's Andres Ohehir:
Try as you may to squeeze "Deadgirl" into some pseudo-feminist frame, it doesn't quite fit. This is a movie about youthful male alienation -- that venerable American-cinema topic -- and its tragicomic consequences.
Meanwhile, a bespectacled Amanda Seyfried gets stuck with the moral conscience in this one; hers is the tired burden of having to say "Jennifer, you can't just go around killing people all the time!" which, of course, the audience and the film disagrees with. God! I hate that in every movie there's this super drag moral conscience character and we're supposed to feel for them as they sit in class acting all stoic while they carry the burden of being the only one who knows their BFF is a cannibal demon zombie, or sleeping with one, or killing jocks, or obsessed with a Satanic car that kills jocks. Man, but you know whose movies have no such moral center? Dario Argento! JENIFER flows free and easy without any such moral cockblocking. Just gird your loins and get ready to flip your wick back into its waxy nest, never to rise and burn again, for the true Swordman 2 has castrated himself for maximum kung fu power!!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The French love their neuromantic triangles, what's up with that? Well, I dated a French lady and I can tell you; they love what they call a cinq à sept (like Cleo, it means from 5-7): a pre-set tryst with one's lover on the way between work and home for dinner. Participating in this convenient and marvelous alternative to a conventional relationship can ruin you for all other kinds, specifically the "I can't understand why you don't like my friends" American variety. The 5-7 is very, very French and in films we have everything from Jean Renoir's La regle du jeu (1939) to Le Mepris (1968) up through to Last Tango in Paris (1970) to reference. Andrzej Zulawksi's third feature, the 1975 romantic tragedy, L'important c'est d'aimer ("The Important thing is to Love") carries the torch of perversity with knowing references to all three of those aforementioned films, right up to having Georges Delerue do a kind of sequel to his unforgettable orchestral Le Mepris score. That's to say nothing of the film's acknowledged intertextuality, i.e. the ill-fated production of Richard III that centers the action, and off-the-cuff references to Miriam Hopkins (see: 'la reine de Menage a Trois').
In a career-capping self-reflexive performance along the lines of Norma Desmond's in Sunset Boulevard (1950), or Sylvia Miles in Heat (1972), French actress Romy Schneider plays Nadine, a B-list French actress, hanging on by her nails in softcore (?) sex films. She can still look stunning in the right make-up and lighting, but Zulawski keeps her aging face ravaged by strange, pale, orange lighting; we can see the lines of anguish in the corners of her eyes, the world-weary drag of gravity and unfeeling exploitation film crews on her cheeks. Nadine's also burdened by the knowledge that she'd still be neck-deep in a world of prostitution and smack if not for the "Zorro-like" rescue of her otherwise ineffectual husband, Jacques, an autograph collecting cinephile played with intentionally irritating impishness-cum-starry-eyed self-loathing by sometimes-chanson singer Jacques Dutronc.
Joe Gillis en verso: Jacque's rescues Nadine from the garage sale of aging female fallen idols, cleans her off, and stores her in amidst all his stacks of LPS, stills, and film books. The walls around this collection, his bright studio apartment are garish with Hollywood movie posters; it's the kind of pad that DVD collectors may recognize as approximate to their own but in Zulawski's vision it carries a stale, empty, even claustrophobic ennui; it's the den of a consumer, not an artist, not a creator. Reflected within the sad disconnect on Schneider's face and her husband's oblivious oppression, the posters become like prison walls.
We see all this through the depth-focused eyes of handsome, ever-so-tortured photographer Servais (Fabio Testi), who falls for Nadine after he sneaks into her Eurosleaze film shoot on his way to shoot gay porn for his deceptively dapper old pornographer uncle, Mazelli (Claude Dauphin).
But Mazelli is the corrupt one, not the noble Servais, who's just paying off dad's gambling debts. Servais and Nadine fall in love when they read the pain and emptiness in each others' eyes, bonded by their moral disgust and sense of self-degradation. They are two prudes in a world of porn, so they spend most of the film circling each other, bound by fidelity to their spouses -- a fidelity that is so un-French it needs special reasons to exist (Servias stole his current wife from another man who's since been drinking himself to death, etc., so maybe Servais has a habit of his own). Meanwhile Delerue throbs on the soundtrack like Contempt's kinkier younger brother, egging them on to the inevitable hook up.
Let us take a moment to remember that Paris (and Rome, as per The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) has always been more cultured in the ways of non-marital financially-rewarding love than America, and the figure of a houseboy/stud who depends on his looks and weak scruples for drug money needn't carry the same repellent currency it has in the States, where pretty rentboys (unless they're Joe Dellassandro) are expected to suffer more operatically even than Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8. William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, Gene Kelly in An American in Paris, and George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's, to name but three examples, all feel the need to censor their enjoyment of their special situation. They take the cash of their rich sponsors and no doubt provide certain services but the censors don't let us know what those services specifically are, and either way they aren't allowed to enjoy their positions and keep our sympathy. They have to squirm like every dollar hurts their pocket. Mon dieu! Les hypocrites!
Zulawski seems to be sending up this kind of self-loathing and torment with D'AMIER, albeit in a post-Sirkian way ala Almodovar or Fassbinder. There are also echoes of Midnight Cowboy's Joe Buck in Servais, both are pretty, relatively unspoiled punks clinging to the delusion that they can call the shots without cash to back them up. Adrift in a midnight world of sordid desire, in love with the sadness he catches in the newer porn performer's faces, Servais would like to forget that he borrowed big bucks from Mazelli to co-finance a a performance of Richard III just so that Nadine can play Lady Anne. Ever the noble, he insists the producers not let her know he put up the money. YAWN-ement! But luckily for us, that's where Klaus Kinski enters, and cuts through la merde del martyr like a knife through water.
As with the other Zulawski films that have recently appeared in beautiful editions from Mondo Vision, L'important c'est d'aimer's style is form-fitted to the subtexts: voyeurism, cinema, the insanity that true art both requires and instills, and the spiritual purity of over-acting to a surreal degree. The camera moves in an around actors, leering over their shoulders like a pesky reporter. Often, the actors seem to be trying to get away from the camera, just to relax. They don't really acknowledge the camera directly, but they feel it watching, like a starlet on set might ignore a leering gaffer taping down the set around her. Who knows if this is what's happening? Is Zulawski deliberately annoying his actors to the point they're always about to storm out of the room? He'd still chase them
In Zulawski-ville you can have you cake, eat it too, store it in the fridge, throw it away in a fit of pride and self-will, fish it out later and freeze it, all at once, but it's still not going to satisfy your cake craving. And that is why his image is always stronger than the reality it services, like neo-realism reversed, and reversed back and forth atop, until it becomes raw blood, guts and modernism. As consumers of the image we're forced to reckon with the inescapable idea that baser arts such as smut make the higher arts possible and even 'high' by definition. Was not even Shakespeare once considered a 'low' art? It's only the dumbing down of already dumbed-down dumbness and the changes in linguistic structure that has made Shakespeare a "higher" art, just as flowers can't blossom without the girtty, ugly, muddy soil and the leering gaffers who tape it down. It is what it is because of what it isn't (the basic tenet of structuralism!) Thus artists are always courting the bourgeoisie for grants in order to make art that criticizes artists for taking grants from the bourgeoisie. No wonder Kinski has to kick so much ass just to get an orgy on for the night!
The importance of Kinski has still yet to be fully gauged, there is yet no meter with which to measure it. So when he hears that the RICHARD III will get the last part of the funding if they cast Nadine as Lady Anne, he suddenly remembers her from her last film, Nymphocula! (a Jess Franco film title if ever there was one!) which he remembers as "the one with two dykes in a castle with a dwarf. "She was fantastic," he cries, "amazing!" Kinski's own appearances in Eurosleaze titles are not only numerous to measure (he was in Nymphocula too, whether it exists or not) but intrinsic to the genre. He's the crucified, screaming (but angrily not in pain) scarecrow at the crossroads between genius, insanity, art, exploitation, raving anger, and complete detachment. Both creepy and sexy, he's never a full hero or villain: half debonair aesthete, half wild orangutan. Somehow when he does these low-rent flicks his insanity keeps him grounded and he emerges unscathed from the carnage. The sane, however, to judge by Zulawski's moping protagonists at any rate, remain permanently traumatized --they wanted to do Shakespeare and wound up in softcore porn; they're despondent about their failure but Kinski knows better: he brings the Shakespeare to the porn and the porn to the Shakespeare.
The key Richard III meta-scene is in act 1, scene 2, where Richard woos Lady Anne as she mourns by Edward's coffin. Romy's not putting it over too well, so the director asks her husband Jacuqes to lie in the coffin, hoping Nadine will perhaps get some extra emotional punch for her performance. Tellingly, Jacques comments during the five-minute break: "I thought I did pretty well, no?" And of course, he will do even better--and help Nadine even more--very soon: his cheerful disregard for the druggy emotional nakedness of this kind of theater will signal his own death; he'll make his stage coffin a permanent home. His flippancy here is a punch-in-the-gut reminder to us viewers that we are standing on the sideline, watching other people act or sing and quietly judging them. We like to think we're secret kings who could do this all super well if we bothered to try. We hate to be reminded that we're just watchers in this world, already dead, looking up from our coffins at the faces weeping down on us. Cue Delerue!
It's that sense of sacrifice and deat that makes up a woman's picture in the classic pre-code Hollywood version of the term: fantasias of women running up and down the pole of financial success via a series of men they've manipulated and ruined, and all the while maybe only really ever loved truly one... he who was no good and had no money, and then they fall from grace and sleep with everyone in sight, except the man they truly love, he alone must stay a perfect memory, untouched by their corrosive caresses.
Thus, the ideal lover is a dead lover, one whom no amount of licentious rubbing can denature. You can pine for him and think he was "the one" and hopefully, for your sake, he's not going to come back from California in two years with gray hairs and gambling debts wanting a "mommy" to make it right.
Where Zulawski takes a self-reflexive step back from all this is with Jacques' possessive insecurity taking on a horrifically babyish form: he's being forced to admit he never learned to fight back or to "care" enough (about the living -- photos and films are a different story). It's very difficult to know what to do, how to be graceful, when one is being cuckolded, or cuckolding, or breaking up a home. It's happened to me on all three sides at various times. I've learned to play all the parts, and that's what Jacques doesn't quite realize --it's an act. Resorting to violence is pointless for any sensible or educated man so all he can do is make snarky comments, bitter veiled threats, and--as I used to do -- spill wine accidentally on the guy's stupid hippie sandals.
One thing you can do is just dig that it's about post-modern Baudrillard simulacrum deconstruction -- i.e. romance inside a mirror, but that doesn't make it any less painful. In the end, Jacques offers a quietly unflattering portrait of a fan who hides behind images and record albums as if a mother's skirt, afraid to look life in the eye. Servais, on the other hand, is a photographer and Nadine a model; they actually create the images that Jacques worships. They feel validated by the act of leaving their mark for better or worse on eternity, superior to the consumers of the images they make, even if their destiny hangs by such abstract threads as an early morning edition theater review in the local paper. The critics! baisez tous les critiques stupides!
Meta-riches are to be found in this film's DVD packaging, which invites you to luxuriate in fine design and cultivate your inner collecteur as you watch a film that savages the collecteur instinct. Consider the image above, wherein Jacques waxes ecstatic over an old photo of Miriam Hopkins while his movie star wife languishes stoically next to him leaving her left flank exposed to the sympathetic gaze of Servais on the right. Her hair pulled back to resemble Hopkins' in the photo, Nadine is radiating a benevolent calm which Jacques entirely misses, instead talking aloud as if to a rapt audience, announcing of the photo: "This one is going in the safe," indicating his preferred treatment (isolation) for all his pretty prizes. Poor Jacques! But not poor Erich, I have my memories and a very cool DVD for the top row of my bookshelf--right next to Godard, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Romero, Argento y Fulci? N'cest pas? Do you feel the self-loathing? I am Jacques! Ach, wohin ist Klaus Kinski!!! Klaus, kommen Sie hier, bitte! Wir verrotten in der Hölle ohne Ihre Verrücktheit!
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Having just seen, loved, and written about Girly (1970), it's a fine task to delve into a very similar and yet unique unto itself personal favorite schlock horror film, Spider Baby (1968), for Stacie Ponder's Ye Olde Film Club Day over at the definitive Final Girl.
disturbing things about via the NY Times' Ben Brantley:
Now, imagine a Spider Baby remake starring Michael Cera in the same situation as the one Quin Redecker finds himself in in the photo above --tied down and at the mercy of a nubile nymphet with two butcher knives, wearing nothing on but a nightgown. Cera would squirm and make lame excuses and try to talk his way out of the situation, just like a big...fat... bug... caught in a spider web. Redecker still squirms, but he's a swell fella, with some real class and a thorough knowledge of horror films.Wednesday grown up and asking her parents to act "normal'" and not embarrass her in front of her bland boyfriend? Why revive a vampire just to cut off his fangs and make him sell soft drinks? Nothing's worse than when a genuinely macabre family gets watered down and sanitized to appease Times Square tourists. What's next for these mad remakers? Midnight Cowboy where Joe Buck gets a great job as singing dishwasher in Times Square and meets a gorgeous tourist named Ratsa Rizzita?Gomez (Mr. Lane) and Morticia (Ms. Neuwirth), the heads of the family, discover to their alarm that Wednesday (Krysta Rodriguez, left), their 18-year-old daughter, has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor), a young man from a middle-class all-American home. What’s more, Wednesday has invited Lucas and his parents — Mal (Terrence Mann) and Alice (Carolee Carmello) — for dinner, and insists that the family try to act “normal” for the night.
Spider Baby has a come a long way and endured many setbacks, like being barely screened at all when originally released because in 1968 suddenly no one wanted black and white films at the drive-in... the color cut-off date had occurred. The film resurfaced later on blurry video where it became a slow-burn cult favorite, but even then it was the kind of film you had to dig for, at least you did in 1990 when I found it a weird video store in Seattle. I'd watch it every night around three AM, drunk on bourbon and ginger ale - it was on a 6-hour tape I made, betwixt Mesa of Lost Women and Faster Pussycat Kill Kill. Together they formed for me an inner sacred space of the devouring Kali goddess cinematic energy, a womb where death and life were all in the hands of batshit insane dark haired spider ladies, and in the process helped me appreciate Camille Paglia's 'chthonic' vision when I read her Sexual Personae a few years later. Thus prurience, punishment and drunken self-loathing all came together into a toxic crucible which is then blessed by succubi and nymphs, and transmuted into to 127 proof gold of the absolving Kali.
No one can climb into the lap of a tied-down uncle Peter (Redecker) or mix girly baby doll sexuality and creepy murderousness like Jill Banner (above). Though Beverly Washburn as her sister Elizabeth comes in a respectable second. Cordelia's more about tattling to the family cutsodian/chauffer Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) while Virignia's thing is the "spider game." She's the titutlar baby; her sister Cordelia doesn't even like spiders! As usual with these film dionee, the brother is a wild child simpleton (Syd Haig) and the patriarch long dead but still in his upstairs master bedroom, and Bruno is the best kind of dad to step in as guardian, eternally gentle and decent with his homicidal charges.
We all love Chaney's farewell monologue with the children gathered around, as he comes up with the solution to their unwanted house guest problem, a solution which will mean the death of them all-- and a gleam of sadness comes into his eye and you know he's using his personal career rises and falls and awareness of his own mortality and bogey man obsolescence to access that melancholy and ravaged relief -- everything in poor Lon's life, from his childhood sleeping in the vaudeville trunk of his thousand-faced dad, all the way down to fucking up his live TV Frankenstein--it all comes pouring out so beautifully you can't help but tear up. It's his "Home... I have no home" speech, and he does it so well he never has to vary from being mellow and glowing, happy that all their woes will soon come to an end. Lon shows just what he was still capable of and it makes a nice capstone for a great actor mauled by Hollywood's fickle taste changes and his own genetic predisposition for booze. In this single scene on a film that crawled out of the obscurity basement all on its own, he transmutes his entire squalid life into an unqualified triumph.
I can't find my copy of the old version DVD but I ordered the director's cut direct at his Spider Baby Online site. I'm hoping going through that, director-writer-producer Jack Hill gets a bigger cut of profit, so he can get rich and make more movies. Stop meditating and start scarifying again, Jack, you've got a great eye, ear and wit, so use it, por favor--and Stacie Ponder, you are the Mother Queen of all horror and strange film bloggin's. Yours was the first "blog" I read and related to, years and years ago! You showed monsters and perceptive writing could be fused!
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Much as I love grindhouse cinema, I'll confess some of the themes--the rape-revenge and WIP sub-genres in particular--often leave me feeling soiled and soured on humanity, walking the streets adrift like a Tennessee Williams heroine, pining for dead ideals and sensing only brusque, licentious hostility all around. As an English major at Syracuse during the mid-to-late 1980s, I was caught up in a time of great liberal backlash/sexual hysteria--Satanic panic and the dawn of PC thuggery--wherein sensitive new age guys like me were conditioned to feel guilty for every impure thought. I've since been protective of women to the point where I forget to be aggressive; moves go un-busted for years and years.
That's why, perhaps, I've always long been in love with dangerous women, the type who kick ass, smoke, drink, dose, wear fur coats over nothing but jeans and a torn t-shirt, carry guns and laugh at the cosmic joke and can beat a frat boy to death with a champagne bottle all at the same time. Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted is my guru. Yes, I know, that's a pretty bad choice for a guru.
And yet, look at America; it's got some bad taste in gurus. I'm right with the times digging psycho bitches since the poster girl for the era is Sarah Palin. I love her tan and form-fitted bright red raincoat and MILF glasses, standing on a podium surrounded by crisp Alaskan snow; her hot breath steaming the microphone, spouting enough fear-inducing fascist rhetoric to make Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate wince. In that film Lansbury used her husband as the dummy while Palin is her own dummy and I dig that. Chicks be doin' it for themselves.
Of course if Palin became president I would leave the country, but I dig when girls rise up and use their sexual super powers for evil instead of good, and if they can't have their revenge on Seattle like Francis Farmer in that Nirvana song, then let them destroy all the side-burned swingers, angry lawyers, priests, parents, and homeless they can get their claws on! Hence my deep love for: Spider Baby, Don't Deliver Us From Evil, Faster Pussycat, Kill! KilL!, Vampyres, Mesa of Lost Women, Daughter of Darkness, and so on (if you know any others, do let me know).
Thank heaven, then, for little Girly. The film's treacly decor (lots of dolls and paneling) could have been too much to handle, but director Freddie Francis does the impossible and makes the whole dreary Brit tackiness thing seem actually cozy-- the real thing--instead of soap opera imitation. Girly possesses a sense of giddy feral freedom. There's a remote broken down castle in the Shire, some delusional family members and a hot young maniac, what's not to love, even as the axe comes roaring down? The insanity of the matriarchy resembles Grey Gardens at times, but it comes by it naturally: dolls, pre-empathic (latent) sadism, games like 'grocery store' and cowboys and Indians are all part of a devolution brought on by incest and trust funds. They have no father to initiate the children into the social order; it all comes down to lots of finger sucking, macabre nursery rhymes and chants, strange "rules" of the house, and the way, as it ever does, sex destroys everything.
A knock-out of the Sue Lyon as Lolita /Jill Banner as Virginia (aka Spider Baby) / Carrol Baker as Baby Doll / Darryl Hannah as California Mountain Snake in Kill Bill variety, Vanessa Howard captures the spirit of wicked evil as only young girlies can. Her eyes are alight with unholy mischief, and then -- later, the guilty pangs of blossoming womanhood--and all the drag that implies. And she's got lovely legs. They're always on display in mod skirts, including a beech-skin cowboy costume. Her straight blonde hair demarks a princesses and her simmering red schoolgirl uniform is like a pomegranate-squeezed hallucination against the perennial grey garden fog of the green, brown and stone English countryside. She bites into her character with such a cunning glee that you want to lick the juice off her chin.
Man, this film's got my number. I'm trying to less subjective here but when you write about a film you truly love, you can't help but be autobiographical. At least I can't. If I love a film I take it very personally. Love kills everything it touches, including objectivity. As Burt Lancaster said in Visconti's The Leopard: "Marriage is six months of fire and 40 years of ashes." If you ever were a swinger, you might use that line to justify a lifestyle that includes occasionally waking up from a two-day benders on a stranger's couch, snuggled against a snoring pit bull with a severed hand in its mouth, like a cigar. In the words of our celestial Desi: Wha happen?! I still don't know, but you've chosen the swinging path over that of the spouse and ungrey garden and that's your life, and you'll probably do it again. Such is our hero's lot in life, the male version of Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
Man, I'm off topic! Let me pull in some help from one of 60s-70s-era British cinema's best friends, Cinebeat's amazing Kimberly Lindbergs:
Before Freddie Francis started directing horror films he worked as a cinematographer on celebrated British dramas such as Room at the Top (1959) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). His unique talents helped give birth to the British New Wave and he was partially responsible for ushering in a new era of British cinema. Francis considered Girly to be one of his best films and I think it’s fascinating to view the movie as an extension of his previous work as a cinematographer. In some ways Girly could be seen as a seamless blend of Francis’ early beginnings as a member of the British New Wave combined with his bleak sense of humor and macabre sensibilities.Speaking of stingers, I dedicate this blog entry to my favorite new show: Investigative Discovery Channel's TV crime doc series, DEADLY WOMEN! And on that note, free Brenda Wiley!
And strange coincidence, almost all my own films have the same Venus Flyrtrap / Vagina Dentata theme, particularly QUEEN OF DIC/SKS.