Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remote in Reach: THE WALL (1982)


Believe it or not, there was a time when I despised all stoners. It was 1980-83 in central Jersey; nothing personal to Eisenhower Middle School -- a few evil schoolmasters aside -- and nothing personal to the stoner kids, who were all nice enough in their brusque monosyllabic working class way. Just too loud, too dumb to know how dumb they sounded; too comfortable in their dirty denim and unkempt hair for my 13 year old's new-kid-on-the-block super genius morbid acuteness of the senses shyness. I kept waiting for one of them to bully me, but only one little rat bastard named Matt Muniz ever bothered, and even he only a handful of times and generally only picking on one of my weaker friends while I trembled and debated switching loyalties on the sidelines. But he was on my bus and on the way to school I'd hear him and his buddies in the back singing: "we don't need no education / we don't need no thought control," and I'd whisper to myself "yes you do, Matt Muniz."

Pink Floyd's The Wall album was then -- and maybe still is for all I know -- the unifier of all stoners, dumb or genius; its pen-and-ink cover is their stoner flag. I fantasized about killing them all back then, like a good republican, and blowing up the school... at the same time I hated that Matt Muniz and his pals were already singing about doing just that, and I felt uninvited. It was their song and therefore never to be mine, and I hated hearing their fake British accents all through the hallways between classes: "Hey! Teach-ah / leave them kids alone."


A mere five years later in college I loved Floyd like the rest, but The Wall records were still a problem area due to these past associations--that included the film, which I naturally painted in the same contemptuous colors as I painted Matt Muniz. Especially grating was the "We don't need no education" song, which I would skip even if it wasn't my record player, much to my fellow freshmen's consternation.

It's absurd to think I would be dumb enough to waste my time disliking a song because it triggered mental associations with slack-jawed Jersey thugs all long gone, yet the pain, if that's the word, lingered on. I eventually owned every single Floyd album, except The Wall. And of course, I preferred Syd Barrett-era Floyd more than late era, blah blah zzzzzzz.

In 1997, though, the film--directed by Alan Parker and written by Roger Waters--found its way to me via a big VH1 premiere marathon. It was on 24 hours a day and I'd done recently done a voiceover for a Curve Perfume ad ("Curve for men, Curve for women") which VH1 and MTV were playing--also around the clock-- during almost every break, so I watched THE WALL over and over, in a drunken haze of self-satisfaction, taking a heroic swig from my 1.75 Ten High bourbon bottle every time the Curve commercial played. In the process, THE WALL became mine,  associated with my big Curve perfume glory and whiskey exaltation. Matt Muniz, adieu! I never looked back until... now.


Because now I understand: THE WALL, for all its midnight cult cache, turns out to be one of the few movies that, to me at least, works noticeably better with commercials. Ads and station breaks help metatextualize the film's repetitive jumble. Ads are part of the whole meta thing, man... since a big part of the film is about selling out, and about... watching... TV.

Though it clearly steals the show, there's only about 15 minutes of animation so psychedelic as to make YELLOW SUBMARINE look like RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP. animation. The rest is montages of real people footage strung together in associative and movement/color-related fashion, stretching and collapsing time and space, rather than narrating action in a linear-time movement, so there's nothing to glue you. So for example we see the riot shots over and over and the wandering of a laddie this way and that way through the train station envying the kids who's soldier dads do come home, over and over; The grotesque Mrs. Waters looming like a carnival attraction; a vacuum cleaner whirring in the hallway; Pink ignoring his wife then getting furious when she leaves him; a sexy groupie Pink ignores; other people he ignores, etc. No one ever laughs or has a good time, unless it's gluttonously, ala the mom at tea and crumpets, or Bob Hoskins as the Cristal-sippin' manager (if this were a musical version of DEMENTIA and it kind of is, Hoskins would be the Bruno Ve Sota).


Back to the idea of TV commercials helping the movie work better, it's very telling that there's also that thing with Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Floyd goes well in mash-up, and THE WALL is a mash-up art waiting to happen. It's a great thing to flip back and forth to/from, especially with a World War Two documentary or movie similar to the one Pink's watching within the film itself (THE DAM BUSTERS).

Last night I was flipping between aged American veterans talking plainly and humbly about the gore and mass slaughter of D-Day at Omaha Beach on the Military Channel. These old dudes were just grateful to be alive and to have been spared--and then commercial! For a "catheter that hurts less." So back over to VH1 I flip and there's old Pink smashing the telly because he's too famous and fucked-up and nobody loves him.  I wanted to send the ghost of Winston Churchill to kick him in the bum.



But the animation sequence above will illustrate that, despite the rampant solipsism, the movie kicks it most acidly. As with "true" psychedelic art, the animation captures the way sensory perception, metaphor, dream symbolism, fantasy, and the horror of mortality all collapse into a single unbearably chthonic flower. Medical science might dismiss this kind of close reading of reality as mere hallucination, but it's the other way around! If we can see the apple decaying in the pantry, or bursting with health fresh from the  the tree, see it breathing in the sunlight; or see flakes of skin and waves of electromagnetic energy rippling around our face and hands, are we 'hallucinating'? Nope. It's just that our blinders are off. We're only seeing what normal people screen out, for good reason. We see that everything is vibrating energy, rising, decaying, rising again with every breath and death.  It's the sense of "permanence" and completeness from second to second that's the illusion that helps us function in the world rather than just sitting there with bugged out eyes at the awe of it all. The blinders help us plow from goal to goal and meal to meal like mother with her crumpets, and groupies with their hair and nails. 

Another thing the film gets definitely right is the whole confusing "warm thrill of confusion / that space cadet glow" that comes from being all fucked-up in a giant sea of fucked-up people at some packed, fucked-up rock show, where you can sense the violence seething in the hormonal ebb and flow of the crowd. One of the very first scenes of THE WALL is a bunch of stampeding, rioting fans plunging into the darkness from a broken chained-up door.


Here's another story of the past -- it was 1987, before the Curve commercial, after Matt Muniz. I witnessed and was almost part of a truly horrible-to-behold-while-on-acid mass stampede of ticketless Grateful Dead fans roaring up the side entrance ramp of a West Virginia amphitheater during spring break. I was in the head of the charge. "There's only one old lady taking tickets at Gate seven!" noted my friend when he returned from scoping it out. My whole posse took off at once, me following. But as we went from a walk to a run, and everything intensified and became riot strength, I found myself walking off to the side of the herd mere seconds before I would have been trampled if I had waited.

My heightened fear of violence and general lack of interest in seeing the Dead trumped my fear of being alone so I was able to witness--in full on acid-just-kickin'-in hyper-real lysergic intensity--a huge explosion of violence as the crowd smashed through the gate, security guards and cops chasing and clubbing bloody hippy faces; cops grabbing kids by their tie-dyes; cops grabbing their long dreads in a balled up fist; screaming and yelling by everyone about everything; cops with clubs and the heavy sound of bodies smacking into pavement and then... just as quickly, it was all over and forgotten.

I couldn't believe it. Even the cops with hand-cuffed hippies in tow seemed to just go back to laughing and standing around. One busted kid had a broken nose which was why all the blood was all over his shirt, so no worries some kid explained in passing me as he slunk back down the ramp, just a nose.

But I was by then super high, and the violence I'd just witnessed went deep into my psychic tissues and stayed there, twisting like a bloody animated nerve - my hippie flower within was pulled out by an ugly metal flying eagle in that moment...Goodbye Blue Sky, and blue sunshine violent hippy freaks...

I imagine old Roger Waters had plenty of similar altered state traumas while touring with the Floyd , and probably--as I did that day--found his faith in his fellow man forever shattered by seeing riots of fans crashing gates, and was appalled by the animal ugliness of a stadium full of drugged up Matt Munizzes, all willing to stomp all over their fellow man to get closer to the stage, the whole thing taking on the form of a giant sadomasochistic carnival of torture and degradation, moths to the flame of hell, a vortex of evil from beyond the searing red heat of the stage lights, draining the youth and beauty of the throngs in a giant hoover, leaving toothless old junky sages still shouting out that they don't need no education and waving their dying lighters. And let's not forget the infamous 1979 Who concert trampling, still fresh no doubt in Roger's mind--as it was in all of ours--during the writing of this film.

And that's the rub, for by far the most interesting aspect of the non-animated stuff in THE WALL is the whole bit of mixing lysergic 'horror' rock stadium mentality with Nazi-meets-Communist (two hammers, no sickle) pageantry. It's interesting in that respect that the only time Pink isn't a total asshole, the only time he seems at peace, is when he starts leading his little rock-and-roll Nazi rally, lifting children and kissing mums on the forehead and singling out various inferior races and orientations for persecution from his lofty podium. Smiling, hugging, saluting his gathered throngs and otherwise firing up the engine of mobilized violence, he's finally happy. Hey, Teacher! Dig those KKK witch hats!


Perhaps THE WALL then is acid cinema for those to whom acid means being a bug-eyed witness to the ugly souls of men. Compare Munch's "The Scream" with the the agonized face on the WALL poster, each a howling witness to the massive cruelty that is every day on earth as we munch and crunch each other into bland extinction. If you're an acid dealer you need to avoid falling into this zone because it's your job to guide people on dosage when you sell it to them.  But no one maybe tells you, the dealer, how much to take when you initially test its strength so sometimes you end up taking more than... am I the only one who sees these giant insect ghost cops crawling on my leg?

 If you can make it through something like that without Thorazine or Benzos, or screaming to be rushed to the hospital or the chill-out tent like a little bitch, then you finally come down and you have the thousand yard stare. And only then do Buddha and Jesus write your name down in 'the ones who know' section of their date planners.


THE WALL is only acid cinema, then, for those who know the pain of having taken far too much of it.  Those of us who find themselves longing only for the "comfortably numb" feeling of being left alone at last to watch old war movies on TV in the dark, fumbling for one's half-empty bottle on the ashtray-and-empties-covered table, unable to ever fully dim the sensory overload that's sending you into madness without killing yourself just a bit in the process - taking gladly the bargain of long-term damage for temporary relief.


On that level, whatever else you want to call it --insipid, self-pitying, grandiose, gloomy--THE WALL is an undeniably effective work of both psychedelic art and agenda-less propaganda. In uniting the doom-bent punks, posers and metalheads with the hippies and acid lovers, Waters probably could have mobilized them all into an army--what Craig Finn calls a 'unified scene'--and incited the Matt Muniz's of the world to rise up and kill their teachers and burn their math books, this time for real.

Roger didn't do that of course. Instead he bickered with the rest of the band and finally left the Floyd altogether. Nowadays, instead of inciting riots, the big rock bands all organize grassroots efforts to "keep it green." Nice thought, but has anyone asked the animals of the forest and the fish of the sea whether or not they're tired of killing and eating each other and being eaten over and over again in an endless chain of masticated violence? If animals could talk, maybe they'd beg for an end to the cycle. Maybe they like the antidepressants we piss out in their ocean, like we like cigarettes, and perhaps THE WALL's secret is that it  alone addresses the possibility of that existentially fucked-up request, to end it, the choosing of slow permanent death to endless living in a world where you have to go to school and fight the Mat Muniz system. In its rocking apathy, THE WALL applauds every stoner's decision to stay under the influence, in the dark, watching old movies on TV and coming down or drinkin' up, forever, no matter how a nice a day it is outside. If you don't like THE WALL, maybe it's not because it reminds you of Matt Muniz or your past rock glory and boozy drift into oblivion; maybe it just reminds you that remoteness is just another pose. A remote in reach is an oxymoron. You might flip between rock shows and DAM-BUSTERS, but no remote reaches far enough to flip from that fat old sun in the sky / that's falling / right down on your shaved-ass head.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blu Blue Blue Blu Summer Water Heaven Ray


Summer - if you can't beat there, watch blu-ray movies that take place on vacation - i.e. with lots of good ocean footage, underwater caverns, surfing, bikinis. Whassup! Blu-ray can make these images so 3-D vivid that if you put some coconut oil under your nose you're there

As der ausgezechneiete Hasselhof's Baywatch proved, people feel relaxed looking at the beach on TV. Give them tanned bodies and lolling surfs, forget about the rest. Why not deal with that, get the surf and swimsuits right, and worry about plot and stuff second? The plot's just to keep you looking at the screen until the surf images trigger inner waves of relaxation, a feeling of bobbing up and down in the current, and urges to buy sponsored products... Pamela Anderson was a great poster child for this sort of no-fault / no-foul guilty pleasure trip. But Jessica Alba has her beat, if only because her acting is moderately better and her face even more android, less yet more synthetic, vaguely 'other' in ethnic mix, and she seems genuinely athletic... to a point.

INTO THE BLUE (2005) 

I saw this at a press screening back when it came out, and so I knew in advance that all the brilliant underwater footage of swimming with sharks was more or less 100% real. I was stoked--that is the word, my friends, "stoked"--to find it lived up to the hype... of it's press release. Criticisms of the overall douche-baggy pants-ishness of the two himbo leads (Paul Walker and Scott Caan) aside, when you can't even sneer more than a a handful of times, even when the righteous Walker is throwing away bags of coke out of principle, then you know a movie's not bad. and you don't really want this movie to be "good" because then it would be awful. You want it to be good enough to be hold your interest, bad enough to not stress you out during the 'tense' cross-cutting.

INTO THE BLUE marks also one of the first times I ever laid eyes on Josh Brolin--hidden under cap, glasses and beard, I thought he was Matt Dillon at the time--and even though he's the bad guy, he's so cool you root for him anyhow. He's one of the few non-douche bags in the film! In fact all the bad guys are cooler than the leads!

In fact I saw this last night with a young woman who didn't even recognize it was Josh Brolin under the hat, shades, and facial hair either and yet she was all, like, "I'm rootin' for that guy - he seems like he could be my uncle." This is some of my original 2005 Muze review:
"It's based on THE DEEP, a 1977 film that tried to capitalize on the JAWS phenomenon of the time but disappointed audiences by forgetting the sharks. This version is a much more exciting film and features shark attacks and real sharks swimming among the actors, thereby righting a 32-year-old wrong. Director John Stockwell also did BLUE CRUSH (2001), so it's a given there's no skimping on the beautiful scenery, both above and below the water line. With the gorgeous bikini-clad Alba undulating through the water like a mermaid, this movie becomes, in its own unique way, a perfect 10." (Muze c.2010)
  BLUE CRUSH (2002)

Underwater movies are cool, but the best in my mind are "water-line" movies, those that plunge in and out of the waves and give you the effect of actually being in them -- like after a day spent in the ocean when you're lying in bed and can feel the ocean current still tugging at your body. Director John Stockwell's first big blue movie, BLUE CRUSH nails this with surfer-eye-level views of the clear blue Hawaiian waves, bobbing up and down like we're out there waiting our turn with the locals. Why isn't this on blu-ray yet? Answer me!

Here's an updated version of what I wrote in Bright Lights back in 2008, and it still goes:

The common critical response to the film at the time was that the awesome photography more than made up for the trite story and bland acting, but critics have always had a hard time with accepting truly free girl characters; if you can look past the surface colloquialisms this is practically a Howard Hawks film for young women: overlapping dialogue; strong camaraderie, good sense of continuity and pace, issues of courage, maturity and nobility. It’s all there, and best of all, the issue of romance getting in the way of your dreams–yeah you heard me, ladies, getting in the way of your dreams-–is handled with care and ballsy skill.

Matthew Davis plays the vacationing quarterback who romances Hawaiian surf rate Ann Marie (Kate Bosworth) causing her to lose focus right before the big pipe competition. Michelle Rodriqguez is the best friend/trainer who sees what’s happening and knows Ann Marie is just scared she’ll hit her head on the coral reef, like she did last time. And real-life surf champ Sanoe Lake is, just, well, awesome; she’s a natural star and makes a perfect third in their posse, letting her surf sisters carry the emotional weight while she brings sandy authenticity and a deeply entrenched-in-the-termite-moment joi de vivre. When she rolls out of bed to answer the phone (The first thing anyone asks isn’t “how are you?” but “how are the waves?”) you feel like you’re right in bed with her, covered in sand, and still drunk from falling asleep three minutes before.


Plus, there’s even a surreal horror element--ala TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE--when you see this one dude surfing wearing Kate Bosworth’s face (above). What? Maybe that's why there's no blu-ray for this title; too much detail on the Bosworth surfing long shots might turn the whole thing Tobe Hooper.

MIAMI VICE (2008)

Sooner or later, vice cops make criminals of us all, but hey, maybe they have mutton chops. Crocket and Tubbs justify their cocaine-jetset lifestyle by busting cocaine traffickers, which means they have the morals of a guinea pig and the ethics of a gangster, as Sidney Falco once quoted. Would'st thou shake a lemon tree and arrest it if it drops lemons upon thy head, officer? And I don't even like cocaine; I've seen it turn too many of my friends into corpses or windbags.

So, for all its acidemic incorrectness, MIAMI VICE still made the "decade list" of the inestimable Keith Uhlich over in the House Next Door. The British Time Out Film Guide meanwhile notes Mann’s got “images intricate in their expressionist eloquence and mythic in their noir poetry.” What does the America’s Leonard Maltin say? “Super cool cars, boats and planes keep this watchable on a fantasy level, but the final showdown is awfully conventional.” Whaaaa? "Super cool"? Lenny, the British just made you look stooooopid!

And Lenny, bro, one more thing: applying “conventional” to Mann is like applying “predictable” to the story of Madame Butterfly: “Colorful Clothes and impassioned singing make this passable, but still ends on the same depressing note.” Mann uses cop conventions like Puccini uses romantic tragedy conventions, or John Ford uses western conventions, as a structure on which to hang a universal emotional myth. The final showdown in VICE is actually unconventional in its conventionality, carrying various metaphysical implications and Phil Collins' remixes that all female energy is interconnected and serpentine, and how on certain nights everyone you know either breaks up or hooks up, as if some magic equalizing ripple effect gives and takes away in equal measure amongst your hot hot homies. And sunsets, vice, and expensive boats consumed them utterly, and I alone survived to tell the tale.


Great minimalist dialogue, great use of Moby featuring Patti Labelle ("One of these Mornings"), and Farrell sports great trailer park mutton chops and does what L. DiCap couldn’t do in BODY OF LIES, which is impersonate Russell Crowe successfully.  These guys are super tough and every line of dialogue is emptied of everything but professional balls-to-the-wall plot advancement. In their own way this Crocket and Tubbs talk as mystic-existential as the driver and mechanic in TWO LANE BLACKTOP.

 So there's three summer fun films for you, and also check out A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009), which is also another blue water / blu-ray summer must, starring Milla Jovovich and one of my new favorite B-list beefcakes, an Eastwood-talkin' bro named Timothy Olyphant! (my review here).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Great Acid Cinema: The first 11 minutes of HOLY SMOKE (1999, Jane Campion)


Ah, what to do with Jane Campion? For every step forward, she takes two steps into her navel. Emboldened by her success with THE PIANO (1993), Campion forgot herself and went too deep therein, alienating us new fans with PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996) a film so bogged down in weird costume design and John Malkovich's overacting that it forgot it was supposed to be about a feminist, not a dumb woman who falls for the first artsy dude she meets. Then there was HOLY SMOKE (1999). At least it's not Malkovich the protag falls for this go-round, but Jeeze Louise, or should I say, Kali Durga Smurga!? 

And yet--and it's a freakin' big-ass yet--the opening minutes, set to Niel Diamond's "Holly Holy," are perhaps the most brilliant thing in all cinema: a delirious free-flowing montage of Winslet and her pal's trip to India, meeting a holy man, riding up in an elevator; Winslet having her third eye opened, literally, in a brilliantly animated scene; intense and delirious and full of the chugging momentum into the white light which Diamond's song is all about. Winslet's just trusting herself to be led forward and winds up awakened in the power of this guru who zeroes right in on her third eye and slits it open with a touch of his finger. As the badass Niel Diamond song increases in intensity--slowly and surely, to its epic spiritually cool heights--so does Winslet's spiritual homecoming euphoria. It's perfect, blissful. You can feel it in your saliva; your Kundalini energy serpent stirring from its slumber at the base of your spine and commencing his slithering climb to your crown chakra. What's going on? How can cinema have such magic power, how can Neil Diamond be the trigger to our third eye opening?

Then of course -- the crash. She has to go back to Australia, and that's where the problems start as her mom doesn't like the idea of her being one of a hundred wives marrying this crazy swami, etc. As with Campion's other shrill Aussie hick humor films, like SWEETIE, she forgets she's supposed to be artsy now, not stupid art school artsy but badass brilliant artsy like she just was, two seconds ago, and then Harvey Keitel shows up and you're like "But he was the original Bad Lieutenant, how can he be such a wuss?"


It would be great if Winslet's spiritual seeker just stayed in that free-flowing opening credits, but then again, that's what spiritual awakenings are all about: the crash, the come-down or as the book says, "and then the laundry" or "chop wood and carry water" or "joyful participation in the sorrows of existence." The awakening always brings you eventually right back to tedious suburban wasteland hell you escaped from and then, what? How are you going to infuse your awakened self into the banal mix of unconscious consumers slurping their way through meaningless existences all around you?

Then again, was it ever really banal, or were you just not participating with full interest? Isn't even the dullest Wal-Mart parking lot a place of beauty have we but eyes to see? Good questions to ponder, but does the film ponder them? Frankly, I forget. All I remember is the great opening, and the downhill slope from thence. I'm sick with a bad summer cold... raisins dancing in a dish, and like the gas chamber, Varla. And then the darkness.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Acidemic listed in Film Society of Lincoln Center's Top Film Criticism Sites


Thanks to the Film Doctor For linking to this:

IT’S ALIVE!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll

It's a pretty highbrow list, with the likes of David Bordwell, Richard Brody, and Paul Schrader and all the Ozu that implies, but also some ultra-cool folks I know and admire, like the Self-Styled Siren, Kimberly Lindbergs (Cinebeats) and Greg Ferrara (Unexplained Cinema). Some of these sites I've never heard of and I'm excited. And to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and House Next Door's Matthew Connolly and Paul Brunick, my humblest gratitude. In the tone of Oscar Jaffe, I love you all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grasshoppers are from Mars: FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)


As you may have read on Acidemic's sister blog, Divinorum Psychonautics, I'm fascinated by ancient astronaut theory, and light bulbs are going off in my DNA over Hammer's 1967 mind-bender, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, because it fits the paranormal theories of our times; it could be true! It's got everything: crystals used as computers and projectors of remote viewing, antennae mistaken for horns resulting in our modern conception of the devil, ghosts, telekinesis, thought and dream video projection, the origin of man as an atiricial DNA-spiked primitive ape, mind control early Catholicism--it's all right there! It's the most comprehensive paranoid-but-true ingeniously low budget vision since PLAN NINE. And then, also, we can't forget HORROR EXPRESS, replete with grasshopper fussball! And you can sympathize with the British ministry of science as well, with Qatermass' alarmism showing no purpose except to shatter public order with hysteria. "People don't believe nothin' til they see it on the telly" -- why wasn't America this hip on what was happening in their sci fi of the era?

A giant metallic capsule is found buried in the earth during an East London tube dig, a moody Brit named Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) tangles with by-the-book Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) over whether it's a military threat or a science project. They find dead grasshopper-ish aliens in the ship, but after five million years their down to their husky exoskeletons, and then all hell breaks loose--literally!--as it turns out these creatures can create hallucinations of themselves leaving their dying planet during a big ethnic cleansing. Space Locusts from Mars! Peter Graves knew what to do about giant grasshoppers in BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), but these are Martian ghost grasshoppers, and they've been dead for millions of years while still ghosting it up in the region in the form of wild local populace hallucinations. The Martian antennae might have been mistaken for horns and that's how the devil was born.

I dig that truth and belief have nothing to do with each other and yet create each other. I dig that the human ego is extraordinarily narrow-minded when it comes to consensual reality and maybe for good reason. Few of us want to connect the dots that lead us to the unpleasant possible truths such as the possibility that our difference from other life on earth is the result of some long-dead biotechnically advanced alien's dabbling, especially since it's hard to prove it in any 'scientific' manner and it's scary to think about. We scoff but it's partly that we don't want to be considered 'nuts.' But those who would hear the horrible truth can't help but go nuts, unless it's told to us as fiction. 

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) has been unavailable on DVD in this country for some time, and used DVDs go for upwards of $70 (if you want to buy it, click here and get it through me!) and I suspect it's because it's too close to the truth; it fills in all the missing dots between ancient astronauts and demons, such as: the 'missing link' in human evolution; how the true story of our creation is encoded in our 'junk' DNA, ready to be projected back as soon as we evolve enough to access it, as if our brain is a video game and we've only mastered the first level..and there a thousand more levels still encoded on our grey matter DVD-ROM waiting for us to access.

This idea that sensory impressions of alien contact is buried in our DNA connects with the theories held by scientists like Rick Strassman, who suggests alien abduction-hallucination experiences might actually be DNA code playbacks, which can arise naturally through neuron misfires or be triggered by DMT. The idea that the film's spaceships precede our known civilization enhances the "we are them" aspect. Dude, I'm totally tripping. The crystalline structures in the craft are totally storage for DNA, as intricate and powerful than human consciousness and the entirety of the internet all within just one crystal, here rendered in 'web'-ish sheet plastic that makes it look cheaper than the flimsiest carnival haunted house tableaux.


Like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, QUATERMASS is as marred (or enhanced depending on your Brechtian tastes) by lame special effects as it is alive with post-Roswell "truth" (as I write about here). The spaceship looks like two uninstalled hot tubs taped together and the grasshoppers look like beatnik sculptures that would be right at home with Dick Miller's "Dead Cat" in BUCKET OF BLOOD (1956); the visions of life on Mars looks suspiciously like a fussball table with grasshopper heads stuck onto the little wooden soccer players. Explosions are indicated by the wave of a sparkler in front of the camera. But I actually love this kind of cheap sideshow flimflam, it credits the audience with having a child's imagination enough to fill in all the blanks (with their own DNA-encoded projection memories), With the help of imagination we can be literally hallucinate better effects for the story --we can literally 'see' details that aren't there. When we're adults these details are dismissed as 'hallucinations.' Oh the fools! THE FOOLS!

I vividly remember being told the story of this film by an excited, terrified kid late at night when I was around seven years old during a slumber party. He was agog with this tale of frozen insect demons on a spaceship that come alive as ghosts and then the whole world is destroyed and everyone turns evil... and... and... I thought the film sounded impressive and since he was scared talking about it I got scared too, but never thought I would see it. In fact I was sure he made it up, for no movie could be that cool and me not know about it. The way he made it sound I figured if I ever saw it I'd just drop dead from fear. But then decades later I finally see FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (AKA QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and, whoa! This is what that kid was telling me about... and it's still cool, but much cheaper looking than I 'remembered!'

I had imagined all sorts of shocking images: giant blue grasshopper-like monsters glistening and gleaming in their icy chambers, huge pillars of flame cracking the earth in half.... Seeing it now is to laugh heartily and also to wonder if there's not even a purpose to the almost surreal level of  cheapness, a kiddie sugar-coating over a core truth too shocking to consider as fact without the accompanying option that it's fake. The official cover story about the crashed craft is that it's a German V2 left over from the Blitz. That's a good alternative truth for the panicked people, and a parallel with the theory that UFOs are experimental Nazi craft brought to the States via Operation Paperclip. People need a story like that to deflect their anxiety. If we ever saw a real flying saucer we might remember it only as a hubcap; we might remember a 'grey' as a white owl; a mantis alien as a grasshopper art project, and that's how it should be. The aliens are too horrible to imagine straight on; we need to believe it might be fake to even consider it might be real. Think of the hardcore fundamentalist conservative who dismisses global warming as liberal brainwashing! God bless their horned little heads!


In short, without an out, an alternate "what if," people really would panic, and the first place they'd demand answers would be the science and the military, which would then have to admit they're powerless. As they say in AA, who wants to admit complete defeat? Not us! we hide in the sand of the hourglass even as our every move is under a microscope we will never see, except FIVE MILLION YEARS from now, long after this civilization is dust in the wind... and lo, people will look to the lord, that big eye looking down from the microscope of cosmic law, but there will be no bible to remind us how to handle the grasshopper mantis devil soaking up our psychic energy, because everything will be on kindle, and thus long gone, and the lord will send Denzel, to bring the bible to us, so it is written in THE BOOK OF ELI (2010), in CGI.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Great Acid Cinema: WIZARD OF OZ (1939)


If there's one national myth that still crosses over to all generations, one touchstone tale that every cathode ray tribal fire still hears tell annually, it would be THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), a film so psychedelic and genuinely scary it still throws tripping college kids into nightmare K-holes to this day, only to suck them safely back out like bizarro tornadoes with just a click of the heels and the mantra "I will come down eventually, and maybe someone will give me a Valium" i.e., "there's no place like home."

Not only is it common parlance, fitting the Jungian concept of myth as an archetypal blueprint of the unconscious, but also in the sociological sense of a story that binds us together and gives us a structural symbolic language with which to discuss psychological issues on both a personal and societal level. No matter where your head's at there's a line in THE WIZARD to lend you wisdom: "Oh Auntie Em, I'm stuck in the witch's castle and I can't get home," could be the anguished cry of any girl suffering from anorexia, for example. We're all on the brick road to Oz, only some of us are smart enough to know in advance that the man behind the curtain.... is ourselves. Whaddup, playa?!


A good myth functions as a natural psychedelic, but OZ also functions, like 2001, as a metaphor for acid itself, and remains a common way to describe the effects to people who've never tried it, i.e., getting off is akin to the moment when Dorothy steps out of the black and white of Kansas into technicolor Oz (it's also what AA people often say to describe the magical effects of their first drink). No matter how many times we've seen it, even knowing it's coming after dozens of viewings since childhood, that transition from black and white Kansas to technicolor OZ is a bit of a shock. And the shock just intensifies with the arrival of 'The Lollipop Guild' (below) those freaky-haired goblins still give me nightmares. They're like those little weird demon guys in the bottom corners of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which also used to give me nightmares. The great Terence McKenna wrote of 'machine elves' as common mushroom hallucinations, positing that fairies, aliens, mythic creatures, all might be tied up into particular, small, elvin beings that exist in alternate dimensions but are nonetheless real. The ones I once saw were even wearing plaid!!


But a psychedelic journey doesn't end with the 'jump' you feel in perception as the film moves from black and white to color, from farmhands to machine elves, but merely the beginning of the trip: there would, in 'real life', be several comparable "jumps" after that, from color to 3-D to complete immersion, to abstraction, and to divine light and even past that into divine terror or divine boredom as you just wish the colors would stop already because it's ten in the morning and you haven't been able to fall asleep and the colors get more and more dull and lifeless and washed out but they.... just.... won't.... stop. After awhile you just pray for black and white Kansas rain to come and wash it all away. Sooner or later, maybe 11 AM, it finally does -- but there they are still, leering at you, the farmhands...

But the night before, well, the colors intensify and then take on hues and life until the colors are both themselves and all other colors, and these archetypal images of civilization and humanity are exposed in full myriad possibilities: in the dark gray of the scarecrow's outfit you could see army fatigues and ruddy swamps, chain gangs and dirty south racism; the blackened rust streaks on the Tin Man's metal torso glisten, serpentine, alive and breathing, oxidation happening right before our dilated eyes, particles streaming off into the ether, his glistening silver face paint and fey New Yorker speaking voice place him as some glam rock queen just missing big silver-spangled platform shoes and the 70s; the lion the anima mundi, the connection to the inner fire. For you wouldn't see just the tin man in the farmhand of Kansas--his untapped archetypal potential--you'd also see a knight in the Tin Man, and a demon in the knight, all the way deep into your werelion unconscious mind, which has--with the help of acid--kicked open the door and is running loose, drawing all over the walls with crazy markers, every line he draws moving with a wormish squiggling life of its own.

Don't we all feel there's a pair of eyes on us, all ways, infusing our every waking hour with a nameless sometime barely perceptible dread that what we're doing is wrong, or 'ooooh, we're in trouble'? That's always the witch. This is Dorothy's story so the Witches are the guardian parents she must outwit to steal their jewels. She kills one just by 'breaking into' Oz, like finding out you took two hits of blotter acid would "kill, just kill" your mother, certificate of death and everything. The symbolic 'kill' in this case is akin to the pulling back the curtain of the great Oz. You don't kill the real mom per se, but you kill her hold over you, and your dependence on her, symbolically, and unless she's tried acid too, you just left her far, far behind on, like, the evolutionary ladder, at least so it feels at the time.


What makes OZ so special amongst all other kid movies isn't just the music or the set design but the seriousness and wide-eyed in-the-moment intensity with which Garland conveys childhood anxiety, and not just the unthinking misogyny of the celebration of the dead Wicked Witch of the East. "Only bad witches are ugly," the shallow and manipulative good witch notes, but the gravity of it, the naked animus-reckoning. The whole "Ding Dong the witch is dead" carries that PC shudder of patriarchal bullying, with its Satanic panic echo of lynching and all other ceremonial "keep them in their place" tactics like stoning, flogging, defenestration, other things I've too recently been traumatized by THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO to name. "You killed her so completely that we thank you very sweetly," such lyrics would be branded misogynistic in today's climate, such unrepentant glee in the death of another person--even a male--would never fly in today's society. Imagine Harry Potter brandishing the head of that snipey blonde kid on a stick and grinning with sadistic delight to the cheers of all Hogwarts?

Drug analogies continue with the introduction of poppies, the lethargic sleep it creates is countered by some good witch "snow" -- i.e. "a speed-ball," which is what supposedly killed John Belushi and Jackie Superstar; and for the Tin Man, a little "oil" loosens the "joints." (the cut "Jitterbug" sequence would have been the DTs or opiate withdrawal), or maybe gay lube, amyl nitrates to enhance the joy of movement.

But the main lesson of Oz transcends drugs to approach the unobtainable kernel of enjoyment that Lacan always writes about, an archetypal unconscious kingdom of Platonic ideals translated into symbolic language, where everything is "the" single thing and not a prefab copy from an endless line as it is today: the pig farmer is the lion, not "a" lion, not one of millions, and the phrase "horse of a different color" comes from this one horse right here in the Emerald City, and the lesson is to realize that all the things and people in your life are part of your archetypal mythic core, should be seen as unique and sacred, not disposable and of fleeting worth. Humans are a dime a dozen, if we let them be, but if every human is THE human, if you are everyone and everything, then humanity is a rich array of beautiful muppet-like human dinosaurs. We don't judge one munchkin overt another, all are delightful, some are creepy, but there they are.

All it takes is fearless self examination and a bump on the noggin from a tornado-driven window frame to see even the most mundane elements of your existence through the lens of the eternal. In order to reach this realm you must not see in terms of better or lesser than (i.e., "maybe we should take more, I'm not feeling anything,") for everything is perfect and mythopoetic as it is; the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth; have you the courage to take off your red shoes and soak in it, Madge?


When you stop wishing for a richer tin man, a braver lion, a smarter scarecrow, a better cut of poppy, then you are already on the yellow brick road, the one that leads beyond duality and post-modern malaise. Every time you watch the WIZARD OF OZ can be the first time, a rebirth, a baptism. As a child suffering through dull holidays, the WIZARD was the one thing that brought all the cocktail drinking parents and sugar-addled kids together at the same time, after dinner, to watch, once again, enraptured and connecting. It was our big bonding moment and I can still taste those dark sips of adults' gin and tonics and Whiskey Sours; I can still feel that sense of belonging and import, the smell of other parents' couches, dog hair, turkey and cranberry, the terrible fear leaking through even with all this safety. I was bored stiff by football, but this -- this was real magic, a real purpose, as important as ceremonial fire ritual and storytelling in ancient Aboriginal or indigenous cultures.

Of course, we were all scared of the witch. Young and old, the parents remembered then as we do now, being scared as kids by the flying monkeys -- so were were all freaked out, the way a whole tribe in the jungle might listen to the same story of their tribe's creation every full moon around the ceremonial fire, bonded in their fears and hopes, or all shudder from the same howl in the brush. That's why each trip to Oz is as exciting as the first, because everyone watching is 'in the moment' together, and we can all recognize that we are the only ones who are ourselves, and all is sacred in the Oz pantheon. That's a hard way to feel when all your stories come to you from digital transmissions beamed up and down from outer space to your iPhone. When you can watch OZ over and over on your cll phone, alone, you've lost something. You've inherited the whole world, and just made it small. Not that I don't love having OZ on Blu-ray. Aye, 'tis a devil's bargain which makes distracted hermits of us all.   


Viewing the film today, it's more than anything the emotional intensity Judy Garland brings to Dorothy that separates it from today's kid-oriented fantasies. One incredibly intense moment occurs in the witch's castle shortly after Dorothy is abducted by those damned monkeys. The witch uses Toto as leverage to get the slippers, threatening to drown him. When Toto escapes, Dorothy tearfully notes: "He got away! He got away!" Her total devastation is turned into a flicker of hope and love for a dog. As a kid you resonate so strongly with that moment; you feel such trapped helpless despair in her voice, and the thought that at least her dog's escaped is such a beautiful straw to clutch, such a relief even as she prepares to face death. It's amazing that she's never threatened exactly (who knows what was going to happen after that hourglass ran out?) and yet it's twice as terrifying as movies these days that ladle on violence and torture.

A good drug trip is also a spiritual one, a triumph that opens our castle doors to admit new thoughts and feelings. Our escape from the witch's castle is a celebration of  smarts, heart and courage. The mantra 'there's no place like home'  is what the monks of the OZ ashram teach: deep meditation does the hat trick of taking you to Oz, but not bringing you along at the same time; the split between you and you; what part of you stays behind when you pass through the heavenly gates? The ego, of course, and without the ego you're not separate from the chair you sit on, the air you breathe or the people next to you.  Unless you have followers to do your own laundry, egolessness is a place to visit not to stay, but of course when returning to Kansas you can bring some of the color back with you to share in art, sermons or say, a gonzo-esque movie blog. Let's not forget that, back in Kansas, though the tornado seems to have distracted the real life witch for the moment, soon she'll be back for that dog -- unless the tornado killed her. It's not really mentioned. As in SHERLOCK JR,. the problems of the real are solved while the subject is in the realm of the imaginary/symbolic.


The wizard also fits the Lacanian model of the "Non du pere" - a figurehead who portrays great strength and mystery, the ultimate signifier, i.e. he embodies the "one who knows", who challenges and forbids. He may not actually know anything of value except one essential thing: "when they get what they want, they never want it again" - and thus it is "not how much you love, but how much you are loved by others." He's really referring to himself, because outside of others' love, he has no real power. But his emptiness is a favor, for he shows that all patriarchal power is contingent upon our belief in that power. He admits he's a bad wizard, but he's the best in Oz because he realized they needed a figure who would at least provide an ultimate signifier.

Thus, in being exposed, el Wizardo has no choice but to admit he's a fraud and has no way to help Dorothy or her three companions with their imaginary problems. What he ingeniously does however is carry the Non over into the nom du pere, and thus he 'names' the subjects as having already attained these values. He rewrites their conceptions of their own history, so they realize they earned these gifts through their courage, resourcefulness and bravery in the tasks ascribed. His role as the ultimate signifier, then, is to carry them over the blank spot in the circle--the objet petit a--and place them safely down on the other side. The tokens of this trial--medal, pocket watch, and diploma--assure the subjects the tasks were completed and "they are that" and they have in these items the entrance tokens into the subway of the social order.

This is why the keepsake from an absent lover, a diploma, the graduation ceremony, the wedding photo album, are important for continuing the illusion that "shit happened." Alas, in the days of email all this is more virtual and thus robbed of its mythic personal power, leaving you weak and with baggy eyes from looking too long ascreen.  For lovers, the pressed flower, sent in a letter dabbed with tears and perfume, a half a heart gold chain, a yearbook photo with a sexy signature on the back, all give way to torrid 300 page emails and endless pictures but nothing tangible...nothing will remain once the electricity goes out and the bombs start falling.

Not satin... 
A "near death" experience or acid trip can sometimes knock you into enlightenment, make you appreciate all of life and sing the praises of the banal, but then what? After a few months or years, is Dorothy still going to remember her Oz visit? Really, she should have been allowed to keep one souvenir from OZ, some representation of the unassimilable remainder-- the ruby slippers, ideally. They should have returned with her to Kansas, and remained red, even after the black and white resumed, the same red of the little girl's coat in SCHINDLER'S LIST, or the blood in THE TINGLER, or the color explosion with the gun at the end of SPELLBOUND, or the arrival of color slow and sure into PLEASANTVILLE's black and white conformity.

Failing that, Dorothy would maybe later buy some acid while enrolled at Kansas City University and when she'd see that it's red and sparkly--"ruby" acid--she'd know the score. Open up the Emerald City, baby. Dorothy's coming back with dilated pupils. But Oz can be accessed only with total devotion to the inner Angora-wearing Glenda the Good Witch. One must become pure love, a vessel stripped bare of all traces of ego and judgment. In other words, to see God you have but to blind yourself with the sun or leap from a cliff, or have perfect faith, like Bella in NEW MOON!


When I was in college I wrote two Oz related stories: one about an old homeless Dorothy hallucinating scarecrows--her ruby slippers in a shoe box at the bottom of her trash-filled shopping cart--slowly bleeding to death after being robbed and beaten by a flying monkey; she lies dying in the gutter, saying there's no place like home and seeing the Emerald City open up before her... for keeps.

The other had the younger Dorothy stopping along the yellow brick road for every needy creature that asked for change (literally), until she had an army, a million strong, marching towards the Emerald City like a flood of refugees. Naturally the wizard won't let them in, so they riot, the golden walls of Oz are graffiti-strewn and rock-damaged. They then retreat out into the poppy fields and form a shanty town. Addiction runs rampant and soon the poppies are all picked and the fields are barren and they're all shivering with opiate withdrawal. Dorothy's mob of needy anthropomorphic beings must steal everything in Oz not nailed down and hock it for the good fairy dust the witch sells out back, because the crops the scarecrows left behind when following Dorothy have all been eaten up by crows. Dorothy gets disillusioned and hides out down in Munchkinland, crying in the ruins of her fallen house, searching the cupboards for one more angry fix...

That's Dorothy, smart to the end. All sensible prophets always escape--usually into death--before their followers get too needy and devour them whole; her straw man will come down eventually, back into his black and white dorm room bed, with a thud, all apologetic and hungover, but until then he's technicolor dreamcoat king of the forrrressst! and only his fried retinas and arthritic wrists are left behind as he heads off to fight in World War Wii, the mast to wave... courage.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Star-Spangled Salute to America's most Acidemic Cinematic Women


My whole life changed--from nerdy punk to liberated hippy--sophomore year, 1986, when I met Sabrina and Kelly (not their real names), two gorgeous blond, LSD-quaffng, dope smoking, rock star-chasing maniacs who were (me coming from central NJ) the most beautiful and non-stuck-up-about-it girls I'd ever seen. I fell madly in love with both of them, platonically, which was good since they ruined soccer players right and left and a steady stream of hot guys paraded through our lives, looking sad and dejected and sitting in a table across the bar from our long back row at Chuck's (in Syracuse, NY), while I always sat in the center of their universe, never paying for a single pitcher. But I learned so very much from them and had my feminine ideals jacked to the moon.

For instance: watching Kelly wake up in my friend Max's bed in the dorms (for we would congregate in his room for morning/afternoon bong hits). She would stretch and yawn like a cat and, and as the morning sun streamed through the windows, take a massive cannonball (huge gravity bong hit / slam a funnel of cold Becks / then exhale), smile sweetly, and pick up her acoustic guitar and purr out a gorgeous suite of Joni Mitchell songs, as relaxed and gently focused as if she'd merely had a nibble of honey-covered toast and a sip of herbal tea, not even a single belch...the morning sun shining through her golden locks, her voice sweet and high singing "I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." Yes my mountain flower, yes I will...thought I, feeling, for the first time in my life, connected and accepted by people I actually wanted to be accepted by... the star children Eloi. Connecticut were raising my soul up out of Morlock, New Jersey. 

I love these girls still, though both have since both have married with kids and all that stuff and I see them only once every few years. But I've found mirrors of these girls in cinema, and for the July 4th holiday, what could be better than to salute cinema's most acidemic American gals?! If not for them, this blog wouldn't exist, at least not in this form.

The definition of an acidemic woman: she never judges or condemns, but seeks a good time with tenacity, rolls with life's punches; she lives on the edge of her own forward momentum, never stopping to 'settle down' according to bourgeoisie mandates. These women have limited but undeniable telepathic ability. They've assumed an archetypal resonance that makes them transcend duality. They're afraid of nothing, not even of dying young or winding up in rehab. They may destroy themselves on the altar of decadence, or sell-out to the suburban exhaust pipe dream, but who am I to judge? They once burned so very brightly, and sometimes once is enough.

In originally doing this list I noticed more than 3/4 of the most obviously acidemic women were from Europe--especially Germany and England. Since it's the Fourth of July, I tailored the list back to just being aus der Amerikanische fraulienin und Filmen!  I had to disqualify Anita Pallenberg. I also disqualified femme fatale types who kill or seduce men into killing mainly for revenge or profit, as this counters the basic benevolence of the true acidemic lady. A femme fatale schemes to get somewhere at the cost of those around her - an acidemic woman is already somewhere, and brings us along if we ask real nice.

Here we go,
STAR SPANGLED SALUTE TO AMERICA'S
TOP TEN ACIDEMIC WOMEN!

Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammell in BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
 
 We all remembered and dug Sharon Stone as Arnold's hot murderous wife in TOTAL RECALL, and our suspicions of her genius were confirmed for Verhoeven's follow-up, this kinky explosion of noir and late night Cinemax trappings into the realms that dwells above camp, high art. Stone's Trammell is apparently Lecter-level smart thanks to a "Bachelor's in Psychology," so you know this is the liberal arts major's version of Fantasia. Stone even manages a straight face telling the cops lines like "I enjoyed fucking him," and smiles beautifully to herself at all the things she's not saying to Michael Douglas, no doubt even more cutting than her ice pick, because she likes "jagged edges." What could be more American than a ballsy character like Trammell? If she was French, you wouldn't even notice how cool she is, but as an American, she's "cracked it wide open." She derails the whole film and then snorts the rails. 

Angelina Jolie as Lisa Rowe in GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999)
 
That she rides her own strait-jacket insanity like a surfer too cool to admit that being sucked under half the time is slowly choking the soul right out of her is part of what makes Jolie's character not only cool and tragic, but realistic. I dated a chick just like that and though she almost killed me, I still wish her well. In a 2008 entry I compared Jolie's character to Johnny Boy (De Niro) in MEAN STREETS about whom Pauline Kael wrote:
His madness isn't explained (fortunately, since explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do). When you're growing up, if you know someone crazy daring and half-admirable (and most of us do), you don't wonder how the beautiful nut got that way; he seems to spring up full-blown and whirling, and you watch the fireworks and feel crummily cautious in your sanity." (08)
Crummily cautious, man. Pauline Kael knew the score... and Jolie, Jolie Jolie, Please don't take yourself away from our pop movie screens just to have kids and Oscars. 

Edie Sedgwick as herself in CIAO, MANHATTAN! (1972)

You could argue she's kind of tragic here, but just look at Edie, slamming vodka with her cute rabbit headphones on, living in the bottom of an empty pool, for Christ's sakes! Why should she bother to be coherent when she's already 'made it' to the other side? The film itself is kind of a mishmash between this new footage in the pool and earlier black and white stuff of Sedgwick and her friend waking up in some strange guy's apartment, stealing his stash of cocaine ("Look at all these drugs!") and hitting the streets, heading to the factory for random footage of Brigit Polk babbling about how her fat thighs just right for popping speed. Sedgwick is beautiful, strung-out, and occasionally hilarious throughout, but the rest of the non-factory 'connecting' footage can pretty tepid, so step strong.

Lori Williams in FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! (1967)

Of the three strip club motorists in Russ Meyer's ingenious (strangely nudity-free) sexploitation "car club" film, Lori Williams is the one you most want to bring home to mom. The other two --Tura Satana and Haji--are kind of creepy Goth butch (and I mean that as a high compliment, as you know), and anyway you step between those two coded lesbians and you get a tire chain across your back, so for fantasies of driving off into the sunset to the Bostweeds, Lori is your girl.

The other two girls are bad, "like a velvet glove cast in iron, and like the gas chamber." Lori on the other hand is just out looking for kicks. She rolls with Varla (Satana) and Rosie (Haji) because they're the most dangerous company in town but she's not really evil. Once she finds a big muscly moron and his Cutty Sark-swilling pappy "sitting on piles of loot," she promptly begins seducing the one ("I don't know what you're trainin' for, but as far as I'm concerned... you're ready.") and guzzling the liquor of the other ("Let's drink to trains!"), concluding her one-girl party with the immortal lines, addressed to her terrified kidnapee: "You know what Tiny Tim? When I have too much of this stuff, it's been known to be passin' out time. And it's just about passin' out time!" Come on son, let's take her in the house.

Natasha Henstridge as Lt. Melanie Ballard in GHOSTS OF MARS (2000)

She's got legs - she knows how to use them, like kicking your big leather boy KISS-bodyguard face in if you try and stop her from catchin' the ghost train. As I once wrote back in 2003: 
In pre-modern cultures, the approximate age of motherhood would be the age of the babysitter today, and just as (SPOILER ALERT) Michael Meyers is revealed to be Jamie Lee Curtis' brother in the TV extended version of Carpenter's Halloween, just as Norman Bates turns out to be his own mother in Psycho, or Ripley gives birth to herself in the Alien series, surely if there was time in a theatrical-release Carpenter film for big psychological twists,  Melanie would realize she is the mother of the Martian spores she rejects, probably via another flashback. As it is, we must hunt for clues, such as when Big Daddy Mars is able to sense Melanie watching him from beyond a hill with binoculars. He stops, turns to look in her direction with a sudden sneaking recognition, and then leads his gang towards her with all the ferocity of a rejected child can muster.
Another clue is when she actually does become possessed by a Martian spore and is left outside to turn into a ghost of Mars by Desolation and Jericho (note that they can't kill her outright, instead this becomes their non-dwarf version of putting Snow White in a glass case.) Jericho doses her with a hit of clear (a psychedelic drug on Mars) from her stash to "fuck with anything that's in there," i.e. the rock and roll Aldous Huxleyan last rite. With the help of this "spirit guide," rather than become possessed by the Martian intelligences, she has a vision of ancient Martian civilization, where Big Daddy Mars is conducting a massive rally of his army, generating cheers and hooplah. The drugged Melanie witnessing all this from outside their time, becomes their holy virgin "Big Other" for whom such ceremonies and rallies are conducted (perhaps Big Daddy Mars 'remembers' the feeling of this Big [m]Other's gaze from the aeons ago when he held that rally, which is why he can sense her looking at him?). ( Acidemic 2003 )  
 
Fay Adler as Miss "Pygmy" Allen - in MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940)
 
My buddy Max and I did a lot of drinking to WC Fields movies in the 90s. CHICKADEE isn't the best by a long shot of Fields' oeuvre (or co-star Mae West's for that matter) but it has its moments, such as a barroom scene wherein Fields runs into a pint-sized drunk billed in the credits as Miss "Pygmy" Allen. She only has one scene with Fields--who is tending bar, wherein she asks, slurring, if her husband had been in. Fields replies he doesn't know who he is and she cuts him off, slurring out: "ah, I don't care.." then launches into a drunken speech about how the worst woman is too good for the best of men, knocking over some drinks in the process. Fields orders her to a table (an old rule from the days when free-roaming prostitutes would try and steal johns from the bar's in-house girls) and she finally says "okay, you big tomboy!" Then Fields' perma-frowned old man co-bartender walks up during all this and asks, "Where's the funnel?" Max and I loved that --- so random -- a question we asked ourselves all the time in college, when funneling was the only way to drink enough cheap beer (all we could afford) to get a proper buzz. Somehow or other this amazing chick Fay Adler was only in one other film, Fields' next picture, The BANK DICK. But Fields should have married her instead of Mae West in CHICKADEE and they would be like a lot the happily dysfunctionally drunken parents of people I know!

Pamela Sue Martin in THE LADY IN RED (1979)
 
I love you, Pamela Sue Martin! I discovered this Roger Corman's New World gem randomly on late night cable and never stopped loving it. Martin plays the girl who was with Dillinger the night of the Biograph assassination, but who didn't rat him out, goddamnit. Thanks to a witty, feminist-communist-anarchist script by John Sayles, Martin makes all the Corman/depression-era gangland stops--from exploited farmgirl to sweatshop rioter to women's prison inmate to prostitute to bankrobber, and rolls with the punches every step of the way. And man, is she cute, and tough.

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN (1933)
 
Seventeen words: "All right, will you please bring me five more martinis, Leo? and line them up right here." Yeah, throughout the marriage-embattled Hollywood years of 1929-2009, there was  one woman any man would knock off a bank to wed: Myrna Loy in THE THIN MAN. As the series progressed, the code frilled her out a bit, but in this first film she's just a sexy, indulgent, compassionate, witty, never jealous or judgmental, heiress, with a brilliant dog, Asta and the willingness to match her alcoholic husband drink for drink, until the ends of time. Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night to have drinks; yes they drink in the morning and yes they drink in between but you're only immortal once, so make it count, and they did.

Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

 Much as I love the ingenious scripts of Hollywood's misanthrope "it"-boy, Charle Kaufman, I wish he'd make his lead male characters just a hair less despicable. A rare example of how great his characters could be when such less a hair is found in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. As the foxy new employee at hairy puppeteer-slacker John Cusak's new half-floor office, Keener blazes through the dimness in a shockingly cool white dress, calls Cusak "Craiggy" and treats him like a cat treats a drunken, amorous mouse. Keener manages to get everyone in the cast in love with her while never committing to anyone or anything, just coasting on a groove, wittily presuming everyone wants to sleep with her (and they do)... and drinking at the Stuck Pig with a sense of comfort in her own merriment that's seldom been seen since.

Clara Bow as Nasa Springer in CALL HER SAVAGE (1933)

The weird trippy energy of Bow is ahead of even our time today -- she moves from emotion to emotion in the same “totally there” way as someone would on psychedelics, but she’s like that all the time. She’s one of those in-the-moment bad influence trouble girls who you meet and within five minutes are broke but ready follow her penniless and barefoot into the desert, and come weeks back later, even broker, drug addicted, insane from syphilis and announce: “I regret nothing!” Don’t you regret either, pilgrim!
Clara’s grandfather is a wildcat mountain man who sleeps with a load of lassies as he leads a wagon train west through Indian-covered Texas; one of his ill-begotten daughters marries an absentee rancher and grows up “comforted” by a stoic Native American with whom she doth beget Clara Bow. The rancher doesn’t realize that’s why a daughter presumably from his own boring loins could ever be so wild. And wild? She goes around acting like John Belushi–she can smash a good guitar–in Animal House, but even sexier! Just seeing her wrestle with a big dog or whip a half-breed (above) is enough to change your life forever, but when she tussles with Thelma Todd? You will want to gouge out your eyes and keep them on the mantle, cuz you know it will never be that good again. (BLAD/09)
So that's the list. Happy Fourth! xoxoxo

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Acid's Greatest Shorts: WAIKIKI WABBIT (1943)



That hair-raising hare, Bugs Bunny, is second only to Ms. Betty Boop in terms of psychedelic savvy, and of all the Bugs cartoons, few are quite as gone, daddy, gone as this psychedelic little 1943 masterpiece from Warner Brothers, WAIKIKI WABBIT.

I always had issues with this one just because the unlike Elmer Fudd who hunts only for pweasua these two dolts are starving to death. I empathize. That's my curse, so I need a rationalization to cheer their humiliation, luckily there are several such as when Bugs hands them a fully cooked chicken and rather than attack it they get all cocky and set the table, even singing a round of "We're gonna have roast rabbit!" like bratty schoolchildren. And there's the issue of the carrots. Why can't they just eat carrots like our long-eared protagonist? They must grow on Waikiki or else where did Bugs get his? In summation: the stakes are much higher here than with Elmer and his hunting wicense, and the savage Brechtian truth of "mankind is kept alive by bestial acts" has seldom been more poignantly illustrated.

The backgrounds are uncommonly surreal: psychedelic splashes of purple, red and yellow signifying foliage in the mind of a delirious, slowly dying castaway. Among the angry Kali-esque visions from the preliminary bardos: Bugs' po-faced tribal dance and a headless, cooked chicken rising from its plate like an avenging angel of commercial produce to confront our castaways for their carnivore callousness.

Meat can be a gross proposition when you're tripping: you taste the ghost of your steak's dying mammal screams in every naked bite, while at the same time you're probably dehydrated and hungry all ready and it's long past dinner, and probably even breakfast. So WAIKIKI WABBIT is there for you, guiding you gently towards vegetarian options even as it depicts life as a brutal prison of unending hunger and delirium, with the figure of Bugs as the last-laugh-having Kali avenger of the hunted and farm-raised animal. So either shed civilization's cocky coat of entitlement and learn to just bite down on anything you can grab without bothering to sing and set the table first, or even better grab a carrot and follow Bugs down the rabbit hole of veganism  before the next burger you eat turns out to be your own juicy, glowing knee!