Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Thursday, May 27, 2010



I considered myself a sleaze merchant know-it-all prior to entering AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE, but still had to see it if only for my idol, Kim Morgan's presence (below) as a talking head. Turns out it's pretty cool and I learned new stuff. In addition to the "sinsational" Ms. Morgan there's: "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller, John "In-Joke" Landis, drive-in guru Jack Hill, and Joe PIRHANA-Dante, not to mention people I was sure I'd be annoyed by but turned out to love, like Herschell Gordon Lewis, of whom Landis says, "I don't particularly like his films, but I love his posters!" Hey, that's a compliment in exploitation land, and you can tell Landis means every word of it. Despite the crushing despair I experienced covering the SW double feature of Lewis' JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT/BLAST-OFF GIRLS (for the now defunct DVD Angle), I must admit Lewis seems like a helluva nice, smart, relaxed guy - and even a squeamish feminist like myself has to doff his hat to the man who made 2,000 MANIACS - in the words of Michael Weldon: "YEE-HAW!".

Producer/director/editor Elijah Drenner keeps it all humming along at a nice clip through the decades, starting around the dawn of cinema and ending with recent tributes like Tarantino and Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE. There's elements I would have put in (the rise of the VCR and subsequent Disneyfication of Times Square) and others I would have left out (THE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT, though it does make a great metaphor for America's geopolitic) but you'll never squeeze the whole history into a single film, and Drenner keeps it all from being too flashy or too slow, too normal or too head-spinningly weird --and does not spare the adult content: bare breasts, sexual assault and horrific gore are all here, with many of the most disturbing clips from the most disturbing films: ILSA: SHE-WOLF OF THE SS and the works of HG Lewis (pictured below), such as BLOOD FEAST, for example. And the clips all look really, really good. It's very strange that this stuff was once so shocking you could only see it as a legal adult in a sleazy theater at the stroke of midnight, and now it's nostalgia, and yet - the times are if anything more conservative and morally regressive than ever. I've even argued the two are linked - we're conservative because we're jaded.

HGL and some of his 2,000 Maniacs
The best praise I could give for something like this is that it reminded me of when I was a kid in the 70s and actually scared of the TV commercials and newspaper ads for a lot of these movies. I could also see a portion of a drive-in screen, far in the distance, from my bedroom window, if I used my kid telescope - I watched pieces of THE MANITOU that way! At least I think it was. I still haven't seen LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (from fear of post-trauma more than anything else) but if I could be assured the actual DVD transfers of these films looked as good as they cleaned-up clips here, I'd be all over it. Plus, Drenner leavens unease by showing lots of outtakes: LAST HOUSE seems less foreboding now that I've seen David Hess shooting the breeze with his onscreen victims between shots.

It must have been a difficult choice to leave out the European imports that had a huge effect on grindhouse distribution patterns (I asked Drenner about that: "We had to make a clear line down the middle and decide what to cover and what to leave out.") On the other hand, who needs a complete picture? That's what Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Cinema Guide The Psychotronic Video Guide To Film is for! What we have here in AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE is a nice little summary of 100% American output, a carny's insider view of Yankee hooplah and pitchman ballyhoo, with art and culture pushed way to the side until it's off the table -- and lands with a lowbrow splat.

There's stuff here I didn't know about, which shocked me. I had no idea the film THE CORPSE GRINDERS was a huge hit for Ted V. Mikels. The grinding of corpses carries no appeal for me, personally, but I always kind of subconsciously associated it with the term grindhouse (or the shredding of old film in a cheap projector, grinding the sprockets). When I learned the name's taken from "Bump and grind" as a mark of when the country's once plentiful burlesque houses were turned into theaters to show films of girls stripping (cheaper that way), you coulda knocked me over with a feather from a rhinestone pastie. Imagine if it was called 'bumphouse' instead? Why just grind, man? 

The whole stripper genre was a bit of a blind spot in my sleaze-education prior to this film but apparently there were an awful (in both senses) lot of them. Ed Wood fans still recovering from trying to stay awake through ORGY OF THE DEAD might be glad to know it's not anyone's fault that they failed. LSD fans who tried and failed to watch more than ten minutes of MANTIS IN LACE can also relax for the same reason. Apparently there was a time when looooong dull stationary camera striptease scenes (as with burlesque queen, Blaze Starr, atop with drum) were considered the height of decadence. Fascinating, yet tame and tedious in our age of readily ubiquitous nudity and XXX-rated websites.
I've got minor quibbles with AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE as a whole, of course: we'd be so much better off with more of the witty Kim Morgan, though when she's put on the spot for saying women like to see other women naked ("They do!" she exclaims in reaction to Drenner's apparent offscreen incredulity) it seems a bit of a weird inclusion; if you're going to leave it in the film, don't doubt the woman! She's trying to help Travis Bickle get Cybil Shepherd to go with him to see SOMETIMES SWEET SUSAN (see way below).  I always thought Travis was being rather passive aggressive, the pressure to be charming and get Cybil into bed leading him to this massive act of self-sabotage. But Kim says different. I believe her.

On that note, no review of a movie on a topic like this would be complete without the word misogyny, so there it is. Surprisingly, the most feminist-friendly guy on the show seems to be HG Lewis! There's ample time devoted to his feminist-fave, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS, but where's Russ Meyer's FASTER PUSSYCAT, Abel Ferrara's MS. 45, that Hemingway sister joint, LIPSTICK, and the whole rape-revenge cycle? For that matter, where's the Satanic possession and the EXORCIST / ROSEMARY'S BABY knockoffs? Where's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? ERASERHEAD? Bette Davis' BABY JANE microgenre, and 70s telekinesis? BLACULA? And ballyhoo meister David Friedman's classic quote about how his movies were "all sizzle and no steak," and pornography gave people the steak, so the sizzle was out, and that's how grindhouse essentially died and became pornography?

Not to kvetch of course, just to flaunt my own expansive knowledge and hide my terror. Because not only am I afraid to see LAST HOUSE, I'm afraid to see PASSION OF THE CHRIST (above), which Landis astutely points out is "the last real grindhouse film!"

Speaking of passion, I've got a soft spot for New York accents, so I got a real kick out of sleaze director Don Edmonds alternately justifying, apologizing for, and boasting of, the excesses of his ILSA: SHE-WOLF OF THE SS, a film I rented back in 1990 in Seattle (from Scarecrow Video!) and which made me see red, literally, when I closed my eyes during sex for the next three years!  But one must admire the relative care that went into ILSA, vs., say, most other Nazisploitation (called "Nazi Exploitation" here, for some reason) with their use of Lewis' patented nail-the-camera-to-the floor, yell-action-and-sneak-off-for-a-nap style framing. But what about the other period sleaze auteurs that aren't mentioned (unless they were mentioned whilst I was in the bathroom, or mixing drinks, or smoking crack, or rolling johns in the men's room), shouldn't there be a sequel? Eurosleazeonomicon, or something cool like that?

AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE never reaches much of a conclusion beyond confirming that Americans will always make films with both eyes on the ticket window and just a toe brushing up against the edge of art, and thus our baser instincts will always be catered to. It's a comforting but disturbing thought about the value of prurience and the way always getting exactly what you want to see can make you a perverse mess just like the anti-porn crusaders have always harangued it would. But at a brisk under-90 minute running time (it would be a perfect part of any exploitation double feature), AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE moves fast enough there's nary a dull moment. For casual fans you can really get an idea of what avenues you may want to explore. Just be prepared to be shocked, amazed, and... most of all, flabbergasted! Grind yourself deep into your seat as you enjoy a splice-ridden slice of film history, one bedecked with sound, fury, and sizzle. In the words of Pam Grier in COFFY (below) when her cop boyfriend tells her she can't just go around just killing everyone: "Why not?"

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Long Day's Journey into NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

There's movies about drunks made by sober folks for sober folks (i.e. Days of Wine and Roses) and then there's movies about drunks made by drunks for drunks, such as NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. It's directed by John "drunk in Mexico" Huston, written by Tennessee "alcoholic beachboy junky" Williams, and stars Richard "King Drunkus" Burton. Whether snoring through high-steppin' crap like EXORCIST 2: THE HERETIC or THE MEDUSA TOUCH, chewing the scenery to pulp in stuff like DR. FAUSTUS and BOOM! or--in very rare in between moments of clarity--acting, Burton was always one drink ahead of his slur; a surfer sliding and laughing down the tube as lightweights collapsed in his wake.

I don't like to regale you with too many personal anecdotes, though I always do, and especially when dealing with my all-time favorite films I find it helps show you where I'm coming from; the impossibility of being objective without knowledge of one's own slanted perspective (such as when I aim, I always shoot to the left of my target) etc., so let me tell you a story that mirrors Rev. Shannon's own, a story that takes me back twenty years, to good old 1991.

I'd graduated college in Syracuse, NY where I'd been played bass in a locally popular acid rock cover band, moved to Seattle with my hot girlfriend; wound up the Noel in a Hendrix cover band until the Hendrix got arrested and I wouldn't co-sign his bond and put up my car as collateral, whatever. Out there I was surprised how hard it was translating my Syracuse glory to a town that, as anyone who's tried to move there knows, is very insular (my few friends were all from California). I became a hopeless drunk with no friends a knowledge of all local happy hours (hung out at the Blue Moon tavern a lot, trying to score weed while various people tried to pick up my hot girlfriend and I let them on the off chance they had weed, but really--how could I stop them?). At home I read Hate and Eightball comics, and listened to records of old blues and/or old radio shows; I videotaped old WC Fields and Jack Hill movies (fell in love with Spider Baby for the first time), and drank whiskey while the endless rains fell on our U-district one bedroom apartment's flat-top roof. A great way to sink into a cold depression, and love every sick minute of it.

My hot girlfriend became disenchanted and I left her there in Seattle to boomerang home to regroup and drink free. Shrooming all the way across route 90, I hit Syracuse along the way, right in time for the hardcore psychedelic revels that marked the end of the semester/earth day, an annual block party sloppy-drunk revelry. Crashing with myriad yet-to-graduate friends and bandmates, I was out of the band but still invited onstage to jam and do funnels. I may have been nothing but a cut-rate Noel Redding in Seattle, but in Syracuse I was still a lizard king-ish icon. Free at last, girls literally standing in line to welcome me back after the show and confess their crushes and compassion for my loss of a girlfriend. My head full of cocky entitlement and psilocybe (a great combination). it was already the happiest two weeks of my life. 

But summer began again, the students left, and finally, the last person I knew had left for home. Still glowing, I finally returned to New Jersey and the Kuersten family tract; in debt and alone and a week late. My mom started right in lecturing and a man had been waiting there, in the kitchen, to give me a urine test for life insurance - he'd been waiting for days! No one had even told me! So I went from living the "lush life" as king of the world, to making pathetic, vague excuses why I couldn't give a urine sample to my mommy -- all in a matter of four hours drive-time.

That night I lay in my crappy little twin bed in my old room, alone. Pillow wet with tears, I was too young to understand that going from continued drunk, stoned, tripping, sexual and emotional adulation to hostile indifference and your old cell of a room in one day would dampen near anyone's spirits. I didn't understand and suddenly I felt the full weight of my Seattle failure, the shame of being a 'boomerang child' an in those days it was still not cool for dudes to cry and mope. We were supposed to man up, tie our ties and take temp agency typing tests every day until we died, in Jersey.

I was so sad that night, I couldn't sleep. I'd never been too sad to sleep before. Well, not since I was last home. So I waited until I could finally hear the snores of both my parents in the next room.... and crept downstairs to see if I could perhaps find solace in TV and the parental liquor cabinet.

My ginger touch in removing dad's booze ever-so-quietly from the shelf was still in effect. I made myself a large "heroic" tumbler of rum with a dash of pineapple juice and began the torturous cycle through cable channels that was TV in the pre-internet early 1990s.

Suddenly out of the fog of paid programming whom should appear on TNT but Richard Burton, in color on TNT (which was then colorizing everything it could get its hands on). Fending off Sue Lyon's irresistible advances down in Mexico and basically giving voice to all my miserable woe right there on the spot and the rum hit me like a warm hug right as I saw Burton's magnificent drunk face and recognized the girl as "Lolita."

I was going to be all right... the whole movie was about what I was going through. "It makes it easier to get through nights that are hard for us to get through." Clearly I was enjoying being at the end of my rope on a green carpet hilltop instead of Golgotha, the Place of the Skulls. "Isn't that a comfortable, almost voluptuous crucifixion, Mr. Shannon?"

I rushed to tape it, missed about the first 45 minutes, realized it was playing again the following night so I could tape the whole thing. Thank you, God! Thank you, rum! And Richard Burton! Thank you, John Huston! Thank you, you old savings and lonesome Tennessee Williams! And of course, thank you, Sue Lyon and all the other irresistible women that Burton deals with in the film: thank you, tangle of closeted lesbian cock-blockers, nymphs, sexually active widows and middle-aged virgin quick-sketch artists with your tins of opium poppy tea. I been drinking it ever since.

I'd avoided the film prior to this moment because of childhood resentments against the "Iguana" in the title. What monster-loving child expecting giant iguana attacks wants to see "alcoholic priests dealing with various women in Mexico" Some people don't like this film for other reasons than its lack of rampaging giant iguanas. They see Reverend Lawrence T. Shannon as too passive, letting himself by fought over, pursued and pushed this way and that by various ladies, including Lolita's butch guardian, Miss Fellowes (Grayson Hall). To these critics he's little more than rag doll flopping in one pair of jaws after another, barely able to choose or fight back, unwilling to sober up and escape, pathetic with self-pity, trying to swim out to his death the minute he doesn't get his own way. Yeah, but can I suggest that if you hate him because of that, well, maybe you wish some girls would fight over you while you laid back in a similar rag doll fashion?

I've been that rag doll, just enough to feel the pain of when it stops forever, which always feels too soon after. And so when a ride shows up you nearly always say yes, wherever it's going. The only way out of a bad relationship comes when some chick bothers to scoop you up and steal you away from the one you're with. Whatever the new temptation is, you take it. The alternative is an ever-tightening noose of co-dependence as your last temptation slowly ages into a death trap, or what AA calls "taking a hostage"

You know the score, dear reader, everyone has had their May 1990, that shining moment when more than one person is fighting to take you home to their place and you just soak it all up and let them fight it out, and then, in the end, you can only go home with one of them. "Almost anyone, almost anything." You can't decide which to pick, and anyway, the party is in full swing! Who wants to go home at all? So you stay, drink more, and then around dawn, you realize you are alone, both options are gone, the person you've been talking to for the last hour is just a just house plant... you wake up the next afternoon and its sadder than if nothing ever happened because something did... and you blew it. And for us hearing "Drink was never your problem, Mr. Shannon" is quite a comfort, as is the withered old poet lost in a grapple with his verse which will only ever be heard by whomever happens to be around when it's finished, a paltry few, at best.

There are critics who also dismiss Iguana as being talky and grandiose, but you have to understand the mindset: if you're a talky, grandiose drunk grappling with the realization that you've already had your glory days, or day, and if you keep photos of ex girlfriends in secret drawers, and reread you notebooks of slurred poetry and tear-stained letters from the only girls you ever loved, all while trapped in a pre-internet suburbia NJ hell, in a time long before the internet ensured everyone had at least one reader, then Night of the Iguana is your movie.

Few things are more boring than a sane artist. And of course, academia and the bourgeoisie are flooded with them, and they will always suck. If you're not down there in the sludgy flooded basement of your inner mansion, digging for monsters and jellyfish and risking being dragged under by ego or illusion suck holes then what are ya? In the living room having tea? A spot o' tea, guvna?

The sane artists are willfully ignorant of said basement; they prefer to convince the bourgeois grant-giving foundations to vote no on funding basement art -- just try to lead one of these sane artists down the stairs and just see how they fight to get back up, screaming in litigious terror. Then there are the ones with completely clean basements, they have nothing left to dig for and so their writing moves from "fiction" or "non-fiction" into "spirituality" or "Self-help."

Too soon the skies begin to blanche

 Fame is the main thing, then, that makes mundane formalist status quo keepers out of once visionary artists. Rather than prizing process all else, these newly famous artists fall prey to to the addictive craving of attention, success, making it big, and letting it go to their head. While self-aggrandizing is a necessary thing for some artists to overcome blocks, eventually old Ego--a "too much thing" according to the Manson song--chokes all the pipes and the bullshit starts to rise and rise. Coprophiliac sycophants gather like hyenas in some mad night club nature show; the first line you cross is free but the costs rise until suddenly the limelight isn't over your head anymore, it's below your feet and all you're left with is a stamp on the back of your hand, now slowly washing away in the early morning rain like Batty tears.

A summary of Iguana's own plot is a great example of the has-beenophobic male as well: right at the beginning Lawrence T. Shannon is derided by his pinch-faced congregation,  for "praying" with one of his more attractive young (female) parishioners. We never see this girl but when we next find Shannon, he's acting as a Mexican tour guide, showing old church ladies around, trying to stay awake or semi-sober as best he can in the heat. Complicating matters is Charlotte (Sue Lyon) a wanton nymph under the care of Ms. Fellowes, a lady so misandric she could go toe-to-toe with Mercedes McCambridge in JOHNNY GUITAR.

Charlotte is madly in love with Shannon, promising him a job at her father's church and completely deluded and swept away on a girlish infatuation born of boredom. Shannon's conscience is so strict about messing around with an underage girl that he has no choice but to drink said conscience clean into oblivion. Fellowes catches them one too many times in a clinch and threatens to have him fired from Blake's Tours. Shannon strands the tour bus near his old drinking grounds, a suite of bungalows up in the hills above the beach, run by yet another female (played lustily by Ava Gardner) with an eye for defrocked Welsh priests. Brother, the heat is on! Literally as the hill is super steep and the sun hot enough to fry the minds of some of the older ladies in the congregation.

Shit, man... and to see it all in color the first time was really nice. The TNT folks did a fine job. You can practically smell the coco de oro in the air. I'd seen it 100 times or more before finally seeing the black and white original. And now it's the black and white that just doesn't feel the same.

There's great anecdotes about the film, such as from Ava Gardner's autobiography (she remembers that Huston and Burton insisted there be a bar at both the bottom and top of the hill during shooting). Sue Lyon's remembrance that she would get dizzy from the fumes oozing out of Burton's pores during their intimate scenes together. Maybe that's what interests me now that I'm sober. In black and white the film seems too polished and "classic" though on the other hand, so am I. Maybe it needs colorization; maybe it needs you, dear reader, to plunge into the cold water of direct experience before trundling back to pass out on the shore in the hot yellow sands below Ava's hillside retreat, exhausted and worn out, and ready for the nurturing succor of genius rationalizations, poetry on the edge of death, and Sue Lyon dancing in those short, hip-huggin' white shorts. Honey, have a heart!

She does, Larry, she does. And Iguana, when I was low you lifted me. Still do. You always get me back up, and--depravity or no--you are proof of the humanity of God.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It was himmmmm! The Warrrrior did it!: Links and Celebration via He Shot Cyrus

Walter Hill's fabulous THE WARRIORS. It's leaked into my writing style so much I never even try to quote it, there must be some word. I want them. I want all... the "Warriors"! I want them alive if possible, if not wasted! Spread the word." Sorry 'bout that boppers! El Gringo shares this passion over at the HE SHOT CYRUS site and is celebrating our common heritage and blog excellence from May 21-23.  I want all the blogs he's mentioning as a lot of great writers seem to have wondrous blogs and I've not been informed... til now! If not, wasted! And Gringo's is good too!

I'd like to give shout-outs to a few ladies who may not already be shout-outted:

Tenebrous Kate - Lovetrain for the Tenebrous Empire. First of all, with that name, I'm gonna think of TENEBRAE, and then shudder in ecstasy, horror and ennui-ridden despair for never being her level of dangerous. Second of all is her grasp of how to make writing about some horrible film no one in their right mind would want to see and making it suddenly poetry. You may not want to see the film, but what you'll end up doing is just reading her review 18 more times, savoring its mastery of brevity vs. informationally packedness and letting her "take the bullet" for your poor overworked eyes.

One of the very first writers on Acidemic, the Film Journal was Karina Longworth, who blew me away with her amazing piece on Jane Campion's IN THE CUT. Since then she's become a superstar on the rise at the Village Voice, and her site Cinematical. Unlike so many who get lifted up into the spotlight, she's still edgy. She helped me get a job as a slashfood blogger which I foolishly let go of back in the phat years. I was like the anti-food blogger. The readers all but threw cabbages... marinated no doubt in a sumptuous red parfait-jeus.

Movieman at The Sun's Not Yellow (it's Chicken) formerly The Dancing Image, is a writer always on point, sharp and whetted. I'm a fan!

There's so many, but everyone knows Ed Howard and my fellow Bright Lights After Dark writers Joseph Aisenberg, C. Jerry Kutner and Gary Morris. Under-sung champions would be Out 1, Filmbo's Chick Magnet, and the Blue Vial, where Drew has been watching all of Godard's movies back to back, a self-imposed torture I wouldn't wish on anyone, including Godard himself, but the writing is keen, so jump on in!

Of course I'd mention Kim Morgan, Stacie Ponder and The Self-Styled Siren, but they've already ascended to the throne of coolness.. And I've already found two new (for me) bloggers today that I love, Calum Reed at the Ultimate Addict and Shaun Anderson at The Celluloid Highway.

Nathaniel R's The Film Experience, Neil Fulwood's Agitation of the Mind, Hans A's Quiet Cool and Bryce Wilson's Things That Don't Suck! Each ubiquitous and essential...and getting better all the time. You write a blog long enough, you write better! We're evolving, we're evolving through the ground / that you put down.... that's from HAIR, my psychedelic urchin!

Honeymoons of Terror! EDEN LAKE (2008) and A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009)

Who loves movies about rich douchebags in love? Not us! But what if said bags take their trusting, materialistic new wives or girlfriends off to the woods or some remote beach to get away from it all, and then maybe pop the question or have a honeymoon? Nope. But what if they get chased, murdered, tortured and eaten and deprived of cellular phone service once at said remote area? Everybody loves that! Eat 'em up!

See, the thing is, these hidden woodsy places ain't like our  protagonists remembered from their privileged youths; times are always getting tougher, and poor people settle into the fissures and dead ends the rich leave as they chomp chomp up the world and leave Wal-Marts like giant droppings on the now parched with tar and concrete landscape. Soon abandoned for bigger spaces, these Wal-Marts, along with woods and isolated beaches (forgotten or not yet chomped) become infested with in-bred, torture-lovin', meth-smokin' white trash.

In their misguided bid for 'a little adventure' the protagonist couple--douchebag and trophy, if you will--find more than they bargained for, something they never found in Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond. Whether they fight back or cower all the way to the grave will depend on the script God gave them, but in the meantime, man, break that champagne bottle, for a jagged champagne bottle edge is a fine weapon! And damn but I got a slow-burn smitten on the Eve Mendez-meets-Ava Gardner hottie on the left (Kiele Sanchez), who gives Milla a literal run for the money in A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009).

Timothy Olyphant and Steve Zahn co-star as the boyfriends, and there's more screwy twists and turns for both than the Union Square subway station, but its in Hawaii and the scenery looks good and om--om-shakti--you can vibe on rainbows and lush vegetation instead of the heated rush hour throngs outside the Exit sign of your own real world love, New York.

Movies are more than an escape, they are an escape without consequences! They give you a round tour of the paradise you might want to see, and leave you knowing you're better off where you are, close to the dream screen and with lots of locks on the doors. What was it Carol Clover said? Something about the land being raped by the gov'ment? So the land rapes back via its people, dirt-poor rednecks? It makes these films both much more enjoyable to forego that kind of rough business and stick to straight up killin' and maimin', as the good lord intended for His flock, rather than sexual molestations. Frankly, I loved PERFECT GETAWAY, but my expectations were rock bottom as I think I was confusing it with reviews I'd read of Turistas. So if you've never seen it, presume it lame and let it take you on its almost too "perfect" thrill-away... a horror film where characters actually make smart decisions!


Nothing could have prepared me, then, for the genius of EDEN LAKE (2008) an Australian shocker that aims high, clear above the usual WRONG TURN elements, and into STRAW DOGS territory, keeping a smattering of the old ultra-torture porn, with the heroes having a substantial hand in the evening's violent escalations and yet nothing getting as full-blown traumatizing as WOLF CREEK, thanks to, again, no sexual violence. Yes, the shock ending is downbeat, but not depressing, if you're worried about that sort of thing, and I was. If something's too ugly it can take me months to recover. So don't worry, it's all about family and the kids being all right, and a little burning and barbed wire as it creeps quietly out of the muck of exploitation and into the realm of social commentary so stealthily it's at your throat before you know it. And don't act like you don't got it comin', eh?

On the other hand. I love WRONG TURN too! And HILLS HAVE EYES and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW remake for that matter. I mean, why not? If you're going to order a steak dinner, don't enjoy your meal and then act shocked when you learn what people had to "do" to certain living creatures for the red flesh to reach you. If I ran the world, you'd need a special "Killer" card to eat meat, and the fee would entail two days of slaughterhouse work a year... just enough for everyone to be a little less hypocritical when they weep for the beautiful soulful eyes of a sheep, then go into a magic black-out until the bones are off the table. You'll know what I mean..  in the words of the great Bertolt Brecht: "For once you must try to face the facts / mankind is kept alive by bestial acts." And hotties, of course.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lindsay Lohan will Have her Revenge on Seattle

The public in its infinite judgmental prurience loves to symbolically burn witches at the stake via their tabloids, and if you don't count bimbos like Nicole or Paris or Britney as being really "in the game" as far as stretching the boundaries of public eye debauchery to crucifixion-ready levels (and you shouldn't) then that leaves just one knife-wielding bi-sexual hot mess incarnate to drool fire over, Lindsay Lohan. She's a lot of things, but nobody's bimbo... now.

I don't need to regale you with what she's been up to. How can you not know? It's all over the place, it infects and informs our entire tele-cine-visual-trasho-wunderland! So then, what's the deal? Is she gonna go to jail? Or is it all just a fantastic wonderful show? Even if it's real, what is reality, anyway? Beautiful starlets like Frances Farmer (right) getting the rough treatment from a brutally repressive patriarchy that punishes beautiful, brilliant women when they get out of line, that's sure real enough. But can even that be made into kind of a show, like pro-wrestling?

Consider Andy Kaufman and the way he would stage big battles, say against the wrestler Bill Blassie, and make it seem like they couldn't get through a talk show without trying to kill each other. Consider Andy's alter ego, the bullying lounge singer Tony Clifton (left). Was it just an act. for shock value, or something more artistic and genuinely subversive? To call attention to the way media hypnotizes us into believing and feeling things and having opinions on issues where we don't even know 90% of the story, this is to show us the way to freedom. Is this not the appeal of professional wrestling? We love to remember fake fighting as a child, the cathartic freedom and love that develops when you "pretend" to be mad, to fight, or to otherwise expose negativity as a fraud. Unlike the brutish mugs on wrestlers and thug mechanics, we believe the person with the cutest face and most pleading voice, unaware they could be the killer the whole time. But just from our cliche'd expectations, we'd be willing to shoot a giant dude in red spandex tights and a black mask if we saw him chasing her in the forest, when in fact it could all be an act, and he's just a one-trick Mickey unaware she's setting him up for MURDER!

If you go back in time even earlier you have the famous feud between Fred Allen and Jack Benny, or WC Fields and Charlie McCarthy -- fights that basically provided writers with material and made great press and headlines, and no one ever thought they really were going to kill each other or anything. Then Take Mr. Fields' drinking. Since he was old and a man it became a source of much comical merriment his booze problem found a home in the cultural canon. Lindsay's drunkenness has no place in that context, because why? She was once a Disney girl? Oh come on! 

Before you judge, try hanging out with those kids sober, see how long you hold out.  Have we become even more repressive a society than we were in the 1930's, when Mae West was banned from radio for daring to play Eve in a saucy Adam and Eve sketch? The man who wrote the sketch, Arch Obler, wasn't banned, he was later praised for his show Light's Out, and even then was one of the first to regularly get on air credit for his work.

But instead of Mae or Fields we have LL, and her downward spiral. Well, I've downward spiraled many times and I can tell you this: she'll either die or she won't, but unless you're a traffic cop and she's swerving down the road, or you're a relative planning an intervention. or a producer who's already paid her an advance on an upcoming role and the insurance company is demanding her plug be pulled then it's really none of your frickin' business if she wants to drink herself into an early grave, sneak off to Cannes and promote a film barely in the preliminary stages of casting instead of going to out-patient rehab, or blow holes in her own car with a shotgun like Nina Simone, or set herself on fire like Richard Pryor. It has nothing to do with you, or your appreciation or lack thereof for her music and movies - unless the flames of fires she starts singe your hem or otherwise effect your actual physical space directly. If you're only connection to her is via words on a screen or in a newspaper then your reactions are due to a journalist pushing your buttons to get you to keep reading and want to read more. If it gets you in a self-righteously indignant "burn the witch!" tizzy, then you should look at your own self in the mirror and realize that all you need is a pitchfork, a tri-cornered hat, and a torch and you could go chase the monsters and virgins around with the rest of the frightened peasants.

What's the difference between a middle-aged mom of five getting all schadenfreude excited over reading Lindsay might serve jail time vs. say, Ken Starr making Monica Lewinsky describe every hand motion she makes during fellatio live in court or the hysteria of Salem and the early 1980s that led to my great x 8 aunt Mary Easty being hung as a witch? Is this not just a macro version of the bratty sister who can't wait to tell mom how you got in trouble at school?

My friends, why not stop projecting your inner worm squirm guilt and fear and desire onto brave little Lindsay and just grab that vodka bottle out of your husband's or parents' cabinet and down a huge shot and then start hitting golf balls off the roof, or flicking cigarettes out the window at the passers-by beneath your second floor West Village apartment like Courtney Love? Be the sibling who helps the in-trouble brother deal with the parents, be the Barney Frank who patiently talks the Lewinsky affair into a non-issue, the breath of sanity in an insane world, see the light at the end of the tunnel and stop--as they say in AA--confusing your insides with other people's outsides.

It's a nice zeitgeist coincidence that the Stone's kickass classic, Exile on Main Street, gets re-released this week. When the Stones nod off and light themselves on fire it's art - when someone like Lindsay goes for it--gives the social order the finger and goes careening through life with a cigarette and Jack Daniels bottle it's not art, it's a shame. Burn the witch! You want to destroy the person who's free in order to reinforce your decision to stay cowering in your cubicle! See Lindsay, cowering in the cubicle is the only way to avoid being burned! I'm right to cower, see, taste the fire!!

The thing is, when you live vicariously through, say, the excesses of Tony Montana then you revere him as a genuine badass even after he's shotgunned in the back by that bald guy in sunglasses. But since LL is a cute waif-type, you want to throw stones and bedeck her in a burka.  

 There's a saying in AA about when you're a down and out drunk there's only three outcomes: Locked up, sobered up or covered up --- with a sheet in the morgue. Like any true drunk, LL is taking her time to decide which of the three she prefers. It's no easy question. She's been wrestling with it for awhile but the mind has great ways of hiding the harsher truths from itself. Whatever path she takes, we will lose a great rager and we will miss these days of crazy headlines and shocking paparazzi booze pics. While she's alive we should celebrate her every self-destructive moment as if she had been dead 20 years and now considered an icon, a rebel at a disease and despair-infused time that compares only to the 1950s as far as hysteria-driven moral conformity.

For Lindsay is more than another ditzy sheep in fake tanning oil and peroxide, moving from one dumb boy to another, ala Britney or Paris. Lindsay is a titan of self-destruction, like Keith "Just one drink / and I fall down drunk" Richards.  Lindsay is a queen of drunken coke-whoring righteousness; she's Courtney Love with a better singing voice, and cuter, and doesn't have a Frances Bean around to create any real concern about the safety of a minor while she gets her self-destructo freak on. I say rock on, little Lindsay! Rock on! And when you want to come in from the cold, call me and I'll show you the best  beginner's AA meetings in NYC and hold your hand during the serenity prayer!! Certain we will!

Meanwhile, for the haters out there, I wouldn't worry too much about the social order toppling under her wobbly heel. The  constrictive force of our quasi-repressive society wont weaken from a single millionaire wretch peeing on it. But... if the rest of us can rise up and follow in her wake... if we can show the same casual disrespect of our national system of constraints and punishments as she has, what dirty victories we may win! The 1970s shall return at that time, and instead of Bruce Lee, Farrah Fawcett Majors and Cheryl Tiegs posters, the kids will have Lindsay Lohan up on their walls, not for her music or acting, but because she's the hot thin female Richard Burton / Keith Richards of a new era. She's Queen Jippo! Top of the world, Ma! KABOOOOM!! God bless the button-cute hammerhead!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Cinema and gambling go together.  Even those not betting at drag races or Reno craps tables have no problem cathartically sharing in lucky streaks of others, and so we too as viewers get lost in the thick of the action, our mood rising and falling with the stacks of chips at our hero's side. And filmmakers are nothing if not gamblers themselves: moving fast and loose with huge wads of other people's cash, tangling with the odds, and making choices moment-by-moment that can make or break the bank. One huge hit and they're flush, one bomb and their on the skids.

Most films are just escapism, a thrill ride away from the humdrum misery that is ourselves; some films are artsy and drag us closer to "messages" we'd rather not address; others subtextually congratulate us for being bourgeois enough to relate to first world problems like lost love and backstage opera dramatics. But the few, truly great films bring us away from the phony profundity of congratulatory bourgeois grandeur, away from social or political sermonizing, and even away from pure escapism, and closer to something like real purity of essence (P.O.E). We can see ourselves--as escapists, i.e. moviegoers-- in these rare films, the way parents see themselves in their children. I see old flames in the eyes of cinematic icons and I see my brother Fred in the lug wrench work involved with being a drag race mechanic in TWO LANE BLACKTOP (1971), a mytho-poetic saga of masculinity that reverberates to my core, and shit. So how come both BLACKTOP and Altman's gambling drama CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974) are so underseen? Doesn't anybody ever roll the dice no more?

I saw Nicholas Ray's LUSTY MEN (1952)--a story about the manly world or rodeo riding-and BLACKTOP Monte Hellman's COCKFIGHTER (1974)--about the manly world of cockfighting--a couple years back, on the same day, and wrote that I thought neither was on DVD in any reputable form due to their edgy titles (put together they read like a gay porn marquee). The problems besetting BLACKTOP and SPLIT are similar, but more of a legal rather than promotional nature, specifically: song rights. Apparently just having a Doors tune playing from a radio in the distance, even if only for a minute, can spin your film into limbo for generations to come.

TWO LANE eventually resolved its music issues and is now on an awesome Criterion two-disc set, decades after failing to get theatrically released in a timely manner (to ride the slipstream of predecessor EASY RIDER or its predecessor THE WILD ANGELS (and the biker, and by extension, custom auto craze), or to overcome the hipster suspicion raised by the April 1971 Esquire cover (left), which proclaimed TWO-LANE their Movie of the Year before it was even released! Nothing turns off the countercultural cineaste like some tony bourgeois-slanted pop culture Rolex-selling semi-pornographic rag like Esquire announcing which film will define your generation for you.

Then, for different reasons, the head of TWO-LANE's parent studio hated the film, He didn't "get it." He probably would have loved it had it been in French with English subtitles, which every bourgeois philistine considers a signifier of a certain kind of artiness. But as it was in English he refused to give it any publicity. Then it had a hard time on video due to copyright issues associated with that damned diegetic Doors song. Oh brother. What a bad luck streak! BLACKTOP uses music so sparingly anyway. The '55 Chevy has no radio, so all music is either heard in Oates' GTO or else playing out of speakers at the various drag spots. When the music does appear, your ears devour it. The songs seem extra nurturing after the enigmatic silences and roar of exhaust pipes and V-9201 triple D hydrophonic quad engines...

Robert Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT (1974) is similarly about the world of male bonding via "putting up or shutting up," and "laying it all on the table" and again there's no point digging for homoerotic subtext in a movie where the subtexts have been stripped down and exposed and nobody cares because once a subtext gets exposed it either "puts up or shuts up" and if it doesn't lay down on the table it's because nothing would stop it if it wanted to, and sometimes that's enough. As with much of Altman and Hellman's output, we're immersed in a niche culture with its own insular complexity, in this case the semi-seedy smoke-filled back room poker games, racetracks and rundown casinos of LA and Nevada: we watch the flashing of dollars in people's waving hands and hear the overlapping numbers, "Three to one on Egyptian Femme in the ninth by 8 points," / "You got it, Brother," from a distance, like a little brother tagging along.  It seems like chaos, but the grace and quickness with which people willingly hand over huge piles of cash to each other is life-affirming; no one welshes or kibbitzes no matter how much bread it is. As far as plot or money or character, what's most important is the camaraderie, the flurry of activity and flutter of passed-around dollars that makes these guys feel alive. And the Hawksian patter of George Segal and Elliot Gould functions within that chaos like an elegant Tom Waits song interpreted by Lenny Bruce and Sal Paradise.

One of the more artsily respectable of these "flurry of activity" scenes is the Rome stock exchange in L'ECLISSE (1962, above and so below). You can argue Antonioni is criticizing capitalist greed in these scenes, and you'd be right, but that's a pretty simplistic analysis. He's really in awe, marveling at the way idle humans can find something to get passionate about, their spirits rising and falling over literally nothing--for no one passes any actual money around at these stock markets (as opposed to LANE and SPLIT). They just shout numbers: "20,000 Finsider at 20!" and write things down on pads. The effect is something anyone who's been in a foreign country and not known the language can understand and perhaps that's why subtitles make crass French movies "seem" artsy while a film in English about gamblers or drag racers "seems" trashy no matter how existentially acute it is-- and when either contradicts our expectations, we--the bourgeoisie especially--rear back like spooked horses. A common currency breeds resentment, but a special private language shared only by your fellow degenerates creates a special nook. There's no race, age, class or gender distinctions, only who's got the cash to back up their hunches. And paying up without bitterness when you lose helps ensure you win next time, because karma isn't abstract in these worlds -- lucky streaks are recognized as they cohere within the time-space continuum -- and gamblers shape their lives like ascetic monks in total service to the Goddess of Chance.

BLACKTOP stars James Taylor and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and the idea of having two non-actor musicians as the stars may seem odd at first, but then you realize it's genius, just like the rest of the choices, because these guys might not know from acting, but man do they know the road, oh yeah. Whether struggling or successful, musicians spend half their lives (or more) on tour, city to city, bumfuck stadium to bumfuck ampitheater. Each gig is a roll of the dice: it could be sold out with adoring girls, or empty except for one drunk waiter screaming "Freebird!" between every song. Let me tell you, most of being a musician is a lot like this film: you drive four hours, pull up to some gas station for a rest and while one person takes care of the pump, the other people in your party pile out of the van, use the bathroom, steal some candy, buy some soda (for chaser), and wander around the grassy shoulders of the off-ramp, sneaking one-hits, peeing in the bushes, stretching, shaking the fuzziness off, staring vacantly out in space, noting (on the DL) how glad they are not to live in this freakin' nowhere town. Then you round everyone back up, and hit the road again. When you finally get to your venue, then the drunken anxiety of the gambler really kicks in: you set up your amp and do your soundcheck, and then have to wait around until 11 PM when the show starts, sitting in a big empty space, wondering if anyone will come. The place is still empty by nine so you start to panic and you have to stay reasonably sober until at least second set, which is very hard when you're so rattled, and just sitting around backstage at a goddamned bar for hours with nothing to do. Finally you do your show and it is awesome, but the girls dancing in front that were giving you lusty looks all night vanish by the time your second set is over, and the ones still there are way too drunk and obnoxious (or "drunginoxious").  Then you sleep on some cool dude's or dudette's floor or in some girl's bed if you're lucky, or just stay up and drink until suddenly it's morning. Then you hit the road again. And if you've got the guts to coast that way, you can do it forever.... you're essentially homeless, or rather your home coheres around you at around, well, 55 mph or higher, or, well, second set when you can finally let the beast loose!

The dynamic of Wilson's mechanic and Taylor's driver in BLACKTOP is similar in this respect to the drummer and guitarist 'types' in a band. They are both eerily calm as befits the types who have learned to spend these long two-lane stretches between races in a state of calm quiet readiness. They are road-tested traveling troubadours who know how to focus in one one thing and let the rest of the world flash by. They talk about what needs tuning or tightening if they're racers or "how'd we sound last night" if they're musicians... you have to put up with hearing how each of them sounds on the soundboard tape as its played in the car all day long until the next gig, forced to listen to every little bass guitar fuck-up you made because you were too drunk, again, Erich! You didn't wait til second set, did you? No, sorry Dave. You (the bassist) begin to feel less like Bill Wyman and more like Brian Jones... the death knell tolling for thee, and three or four better bassists (who can do the funky thumbslap) salivating in the wings.

But Taylor and Wilson don't really drink, it would slow them down. Even the girl they hook up with can't seem to find a way to get them to notice her. And again, if you're in or were ever in even a moderately successful band you know this feeling, as because you and your bandmates need a certain open channel ESP onstage, you become closer than a family while off. The only thing similar I've seen is in Sam Fuller war movies.

By comparison, Warren Oates' GTO-driver is hopelessly insecure, alone with no purpose or destination, other than living his dream of owning and driving a GTO and never looking back (this being the day when gas was under $1 a gallon). His challenging Wilson and Taylor in a race is apparently for friendship rather than monetary interests, but of course neither team can admit that. Oates' idea of taking "the girl" and going somewhere like "Chicago or New York" is the plan by which all his dreams will come true, his follow-up fantasy now that the GTO is a reality (a reality he doesn't know what to do with). It's the "We're retired in Florida now, Mister" dream of EASY RIDER, but she's not buying it, just as Captain America didn't--and neither, once the dust of his bullshit settles, is Oates himself.

Existence on the road is all these people seem to have - their house exists only at 55+ mph on the blacktop ribbons tying America together like a giant wondrous gift; they have no address, no home other than their car, or-- in the girl's case--someone else's car. Momentum, stillness in motion, soothes their nervous longing. Stretched out along Route 66, they're vagabonds on wheels, sleeping in shifts or just hanging out in some no-horse town at the best time to be hanging out in such towns, dawn. GTO's patter indicates he's aware of this perpetually displaced vagrancy while fundamentally unable to "accept it" and stop the idle chatter. He tells his disinterested hitchhiker passengers that these boys he's racing with "get hysterical... They run right over ya if they get the chance; but they can't stand up to the 455 no way." As if anyone even knows what that is, as if even he knows.

Some movies can portend to be about everything cosmic and cool, but really be about the director's insecurity, like Woody Allen's. Monte Hellman's are the reverse: they're about male insecurity burying itself in a spiritual discipline -- Zen and the Art of the Chevrolet, and at their core reveal a transcendental quietude worthy of Ozu or Bresson. And much as I love EASY RIDER, you can see the difference as clear as night and day between the judgmental redneck bashing of Hopper's film and the way Wilson quietly changes his license plate when driving through the deep south because he doesn't feel "safe," letting you infer deep suspicion towards out-of-staters, but sparing us any actual redneck violence.

Instead this focus on the art of driving is a spiritual thing that the truly enlightened, deranged, or anyone experiencing a mid-life crisis or lysergic epiphany can understand: the thing in itself doesn't matter so much as the right minded doing - in this case the fast-talk distraction that comes from winning money, watching races and fights and admiring each other's vehicle or stack of poker chips. Anything can become poetry with the proper attention: the roosters fighting in slow motion in Hellman's COCKFIGHTER for example. The beauty of the road is the way constant motion can breed deep inner stillness, time and responsibility escaped through some motorized loophole.  Who wins the race or fight hardly matters to Hellman. Destinations are for chumps.

Foreign films' subtitles create the same disconnect as the intense focus and foreign-ness of "carspeak" or "cockspeak." We need to be plunged into foreign situations, like kids greedily absorbing the strangeness with no intention of judging it. Make it too unfamiliar to ever breed contempt, and its art.

But it's lost, a lost art. The only ones who've come close to being believable at carspeak in the last few decades of cinema is Vin Diesel--who was able to carspeak for most of FAST AND FURIOUS without it sounding hackneyed--and Heath Ledger as a zonked board waxer in LORDS OF DOGTOWN.  But look what happened to them? Five to one Diesel never makes it back, either; I'll put 35 at five to six he doesn't - even money he does but grows hair on that bald dome and gets pudgy and starts playing street thugs. Yep, I won that bet. Won it flat out, in a poker game, used to fly jets... for pink slips. It don't mean nothin' either way. Fade to Burn, baby, and don't roll no post-singe credits.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ich liebe dich so, Anita Pallenberg

I love Anita Pallenberg, extra much today. I've always loved the Nordic blonde goddess types, not the bland automaton types but the ferociously alive yet cold-at-the-core Teutons. As I listen to Rolling Stones' "Angie," I think about what the Stones would have been without Anita and Marianne Faithful to guide them, the twin muses of the twins Glimmer. The allure of Faithfull lay in her archetypal depth, her timeless beauty, both dating back to Camelot and the Celts. Pallenberg's appeal was/is more elusive; you can't even really remember what she looks like because her face is so liquid, so alive from second to second with crazy emotions, artistic freestyle, Brian Jones, ferocious carnality, sensory exultation, long teeth, and innate fashion sense. She's a wolf and 18 djinn poured into a German model's body. All I can do is offer screen captures culled from PERFORMANCE to try and hang some random adjectives on her clotheshorse from Valhalla appeal:

With the arrival of James Fox's gangster into their psychedelic love den, Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger launch a series of wigs to conceal the hooliganism of Chaz (Fox) so he isn't found by his old gang. Anita initiates the red wig and against the red decor she seems like a whole new character, but it's just a mirror of Fox's original disguise, a hideous red shoe polish hairdo, and he will eventually wear the red wig himself... and lipstick.

Drugs play a huge part in this transformation. Though many contemporary shamen and Buddhists don't think drugs are needed, shaman Anita swears by them, and without those shrooms, Fox's transformation would be incomplete -- like trying to reach Nevada on foot instead of in an air-conditioned limo. To choose to walk instead may add 'authenticity' but smacks of puritanism and dogma. To paraphrase Ed Wood, if God had meant for us to walk, he wouldn't have given us wings... and to insist on always walking is just as dogmatic and dorky as never walking. Taking the van to go down the driveway for the paper, for example, smacks just as bad... but hurts so good.

Films of the late 1960s and early 1970s were full of political incorrectness and drug orgies but PERFORMANCE was directed and written by Donald Cammell, a man who lived and breathed drug orgies. The difference is like night and so much later that night that it's the breaka dawn.

Speaking of which, why am I letting yet another nice day go by writing blog entries? I'm  scared of all the tourists outside, and would rather be up in my own bescarved den of creativity, hiding from the world til it's dusk and the tourists are gone, the year of the Cat. I'll leave you with a link to my earlier PERFORMANCE piece and the beautiful ode to the song, "Wild Horses" by a writer with many of Pallenberg's alluring qualities, Sunset Gun's Kim Morgan.

And check her black wig in BARBARELLA (1968)!