Sunday, April 29, 2012

Iguanas and Mustangs

"When you're in love with a beautiful woman / it's hard." - Dr. Hook

THE MISFITS (1961) was just on TCM and for a big chunk of it I was floored by its poetic train wreck qualities and wondered why Marilyn Monroe's performance is maligned in film criticism. It's like a bi-polar character written for a bi-polar actress by her bi-polar husband as a divorce present can't get a break in this town. Especially now, when we can diagnose problems of this sort and medicate them, the self-medication of booze and tranquilizers isn't respected. And then there's death, where madness and marriage are finally reconciled. MISFITS got all that, and horses as handy catch-all metaphors for woman, the American dream and its sad capitalism awakening.


But it's Death that must be acknowledged. Death, the ultimate marital therapist and signifier for great literature. Death hangs over THE MISFITS like a windless, gnat-filled haze. If one lacked direct war experience in order to be a man who knows death, MISFITS shows that booze could make up the damage, enabling a clear-eyed view of death invisible to the naked, sober, civilian eye. John Huston, like Howard Hawks and few others, saw the inextricable linkage of death to the activities of all men, be they whalers or iguana wranglers or prospectors or boxers or detectives. Huston's drunkenness is the sort one sees in WWI pilots in 1930s movies, the drunk freedom from death that only facing death, and seeing your friends die in flames, can bring.

The similarity of MISFIT's freeing-the-horses climax to Richard Burton cutting loose the titular lizard in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is no coincidence. In the nonstop stream of barbarism that is civilization through the eyes of the alcoholic, poetic, and bi-polar (the only sane souls around), a single act of compassion just may save the world, or at any rate fool St. Peter into waving you past unexamined for dark spots.

It's this motif that attempts to somehow impose order on the swirl of visuals in Malick's TREE OF LIFE (my sort-of review here), for example, as when a dinosaur merely tags a wounded possible dinner with his foot and marches off (and later a similar gesture is repeated between warring siblings), and it's this gesture--the throwing them back because they're too small, as it were--that ideally, finally, redeems Burton and Gable, and sends ugly Americans like Ms. Fellowes and Guido (Eli Wallach) off to their material planes to sulk.

Along with fellow cowboy Montgomery Clift, Gable ropes the mustangs for a dog food conglomerate. His ex-bomber buddy Guido barnstorms the mustangs out of the mountains and into the lassos of Gable and Clift, waiting at the end of a trespass. It's a pretty dirty job and the last horses left are a cute family of a stallion --two mares and a colt --and Mare-lin (get it?) has a nervous breakdown thinking about these poor gorgeous wild and free beasts being ground-up, stacked, and canned (Burton's words for modern humanity in IGUANA) so the boys can continue to get her drunk. A whole reel goes by while the cowpokes tussle over who will release the horses and win MM's favor, or if they just won't and get the money and buy booze and try the long way around.


But for many actors there's a fine line between an actor drinking during shooting--and then acting drunker than he is--and a sober actor playing drunk. The sober actor might get all the motions and slurs right, but the insulated bi-polar aspect--the ability to careen from jubilant to morose, from possessive to ambivalent, from greedy to benevolent from mopey to Zen, like a drunken slalom--can only come from the hearty heart of darkness, the fortified brand, that limits itself to only three drinks before breakfast, just to kill the shakes. And out in the desert heat that kind of buzz-balancing can knock you flat on your dehydrated ass. We know Burton and Huston drank constantly on the set of IGUANA (and Elizabeth came, too). And the actors we see in MISFITS are 'real' drunks, except Wallach. We can feel it. We feel confused, the way as a kid I used to feel when our old neighborhood would have big block parties, somewhat alarmed but also thrilled, to see our parents all start falling off their lawn chairs, hooking up with each other's wives, and belting out slurred folk songs, while the kids roasted marshmallows and smoked punks to keep the mosquitoes away and played kick the can sometimes til dawn all while the parents roared at their endless dirty jokes around the glowng coalss. The parents seemed like they'd all just been in a bad car accident or been hit on the head with baseballs. They lurched wildly and said contradictory things, punishing you for doing something they told you to do mere moments ago, and then forgetting they punished you and giving you sips of their beer, rubbing your head too hard like you were a dog, then pushing you away again.

We were too young to associate the yucky taste of their drinks with their behavior. Why on earth would anyone drink something that made them even more stupid than they were already? Cause and effect of food and drink was not in our grasp. I found out later about how booze is a miracle and would have solved all my problems if I had known earlier... and now the MISFIT-cast's style of drunkenness harkens me back to the days of my childhood, when my parents were crazy ass partiers in their early 30s, and our kitchen looked like the one in MAD MEN.


The main drawback of MISFITS for me is the skeevy presence of Eli Wallach as Guido. Nothing personal against him as an actor; we all love him as Angel Eyes in GOOD, BAD, UGLY and the crafty Sicilian seducer in BABY DOLL, but Guido as a character is grossly repugnant; I don't want to see Wallach in anything for weeks after a MISFITS screening. I want to remove him from the scene, and I feel bad for Thelma Ritter, forced to be the fifth wheel as Monty Clift, Clark Gable, and Wallach all vie for MM's attention. Of course we're not supposed to like Wallach's sociopathic pilot, but if not why are we even hanging out with him? Age is supposed to make people wise, and Wallach seems an odd fit, like if Mrs. Fellowes stayed up with Burton and Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner in IGUANA, and tried to cockblock them and get Burton in the sack. There's moments when he, say, cuts in on Gable and Monroe dancing where Guido reminds me of De Niro in NEW YORK, NEW YORK where yes, the guy can act and the guy filming him can direct and the writer can write, but they all forgot an essential ingredient: why we should care about an unrepentant asshole? As sensible people we naturally want to ditch them at the bar and bring the cool people home, pick up a quarter keg on the way, and then turn the lights out and tell everyone to be super quiet if they come peering in the window. My drunken posse learned fast how to shuck these wallies so I resent that my loser-ditching skills have no use in excising Guido from the festivities.


I'm prejudiced against the type of course from being in a band in college and having a hot girlfriend and regularly throwing big drunken parties blah blah. I had to regularly fend off the yawning chasms of need that hung around her and pawed the turf and snorted coke through their bovine nostrils and got all mean and grew ugly devil horns after she refused them.  I never liked coke because it turned me too much into a Wallach. I stopped doing it, and had to watch the gorgeous blonde muses go home with dirt bags 'cuz the dirt bags had some. So yeah, I hate the Guidos and the wallies and the dirtbags. And when their scummy bullying come-ons trumped my poet boozer 'never in a million years work up the guts to bust the first move'-busting, I formed a permanent resentment.

And the worst was being stuck with a dirtbag cokehead while tripping, just because were the only ones still awake. It was almost better they hooked up with a hottie and left me to my own late night devices. No good trip can survive ending the night trapped by the feedback white noise squall that was their incessant crankhead chatter and tales of fights they always got into but never started and the various stadium rock shows they saw over the years.


It's not fair of course because for screenwriter Arthur Miller the heat was on to perform as a genius and he must have been suffering from the same anti-wally poison due to being the envy of every man alive via his marriage to Marilyn. As Dr. Hook sand, "When you're in love / with a beautiful woman / you can't keep from cryin'." There's a Charlie McCarthy show episode where Charlie's going to marry Marilyn Monroe (the guest) and the bulk of the show is spent with them listening to the radio as everyone from Arthur Godfrey to the Marines, to Winston Churchill ("never has so much... been taken away from so many... for so little." laments loss of Monroe as a possible bedroom fantasy. Even the justice of the peace tries to steal her away ("Mrs. Monroe, I'm a bachelor steady habits"). Surely the Marines didn't view splintery Arthur Miller as competition any more than they did McCarthy, despite the power of the pen. Guido seems to be the receptacle for all that passive aggressive rage Miller surely felt. I recognize the rage, it's a horrible, powerless feeling. My only strategy was to accidentally spill my drink on their shoes.



Perhaps it's no accident then that Wallach is the only actor still alive in real life as of this writing, as if watching all the other cast members slowly vanish in the desert wind like shimmering horizon angels left him cursed with longevity. The other actors found 'the highway under the big star' and left Eli behind to fly his damned crop duster "without ever being able to land."

 

Then there are the mustangs: You can wonder why Gable doesn't realize that he, himself, is the reason there are no more wild mustangs in the canyon. His attitude in roping them, so casual about animal life, tells us he's a true cowboy and maybe cowboys--courageous and insane as they are--are all sociopaths. Maybe all hunters and soldiers have to be immune to their fellow creature's suffering just to keep from cryin'. Gable's blind to having drained the mustang bottle but Marilyn knows those poor mustangs are just like her, caught in the thresher of dirtbag desire. The horses bring money for booze which the cowboys feed to her in an effort to get her into bed. Guido then offers to free them if it means her can get her into bed (thus 'landing') which skeeves MM and us all out, and Clift is just too sensitive, like Marilyn, to deal with the pain they cause. He likes her for who she is, not as something to brand.

By all accounts Clift and Monroe were both half out of their minds on booze and pills during the torturously long location shoot and the wild vulnerability they display is not just acting. They'd both be ground up, stacked, and canned before you know it. And the cowboys will be thrown up against the barb wire and neon of the west they've won, and they shall lament there's no more hosses to rope for dog food and the dogs that ate the food there was are all dead from old age and there you are. That's progress, like the westward expansion that reaped the dust bowl. The whole final segment of roping the mustangs and Marilyn Monroe freaking out with those big doe eyes running the bi-polar gamut is so painful I had to walk away from it, keep it running on the DVR and come back in time for that brilliant final fade-out, with Gable and Monroe driving 'home' - wherever that is. No credits, no music, no... nothing. It's not perfect as a film but as death's desert Christmas card it's ripe with transcendental mythic inscrutability and that alone makes it a quiet, drunken, desperate little triumph. Set it free, set them all free, like Monroe and Clift and Gable are free, and play God here tonight. Marilyn! You are avenged!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Idiot Wind of the Locusts: SOYLENT GREEN

"People were always rotten."

Edward G. Robinson says this line in 1973's sci fi eco-dystopia cautionary tale SOYLENT GREEN, while lamenting the good old days of air conditioning and top soil, never once realizing the irony that in fact everything else is rotten, but thanks to state of the art of preservative-enhanced freeze-drying people are the only things left that ain't rotten: They stay fresh and delicious almost forever...


That famous quote, "Soylent Green is people!" is the purloined letter of the film and I don't feel guilty giving it away because it's part of popular culture, along with the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes, which also starred Chuck Heston. Taken together, these two films are Earth Day sci fi eco disaster bookends, a time-loop Greatest Story Ever Told, wherein the grim future of SOYLENT is the distant past in APES. At least, we thought, the planet would eventually recover  after we overpopulated ourselves to extinction. Yes, even in the 1970s, overpopulation was a problem, or at least they had the guts to think about it! There was also LOGAN'S RUN (everyone dies at 30), ROLLERBALL (bloodsport sets the trends); that forgotten Bruce Dern film SILENT RUNNING (the last plants kept alive in a remote orbiting spaceship), it was all cascading out of our growing awareness that throwing your McDonald's trash out the window when driving home was wrong! There was that 1970s crying Indian. There was Pogo Earth Day poster. These things made an impact. We kids of the time still remember them...



What's fascinating about GREEN in the end isn't the inevitability of cannibalism in a society choked on humans and starved on everything else, but Heston's flare up of morality and outrage over it all. Why it's so important to keep the terminal truth of 'you are what you eat' from the general public shouldn't be his concern. The Soylent Corp. is, to my mind, doing a public service by hushing it up. After all, they're the last gasp of food production in the face of global starvation! They should be thanked for working so hard to disguise the long pig... they're keeping the secret to save mankind from feeling worse than it already does. Why not tell the delusional Donner party matron shivering in the back of the hogan that its venison, if it gets her to eat it? By the same token, there are cancer-stricken old ladies dying right and left because they don't want to smoke pot since its illegal and therefore poisonous... why not mix it in her brownies and tell her?

But cop Heston doesn't want to hear my rationalizations. Near the end he even sneers to his chief, "soon they'll be breeding us like cattle," and it's fitting that the stupidity of that remark is completely lost on him. One asks: With what, Chuck, will they be feeding these human cattle? If there were any feed or grass left, people would be standing in line to be bred like cattle. And 'breeding' us kind of defeats the whole point, doesn't it? Like breeding locusts to feed an incoming swarm of locusts... or carrying coals to Newcastle, wherever that is... I assume a place that's already rife with coal.


But for every perceptive, accurate, and nihilistic prediction in GREEN, there's a few that have dated, badly. Dig that the film is not racist--Heston was on point in such matters, even marching with Dr. King in '63--but it is most definitely sexist. In the future, it seems, women are all sluts, heh heh, that are called 'furniture' because they don't move or pack anymore; they just stay behind for the next man who moves in, and none of this is in the novel by Harry Harrison, which is perhaps why it comes off so half-baked, if you'll forgive the expression.


I also wish to further point out the hypocrisy of Heston's outrage over the Soylent secret when earlier in the film he brings home a pound of confiscated fresh beef to Edward G. Old enough to remember when beef was ubiquitous, Robinson weeps when he sees it. No one even mentions the rough, tough sole-survivor cattle that died so Eddie and Chuck can have their purloined steak! I wonder if Heston's relatively young cop (who doesn't remember the time of ubiquitous beef) would get outraged if he know that the meat was from a cow. I can seem him being both NRA and PETA, why not? "Beef is.... Cows?! Damn you, apes!"


He should relax, man. Stress makes people gamey. We all should relax and put our outraged moral muskets down and admit we're fascinated by cannibalism. We've eaten each other in some distant primordial pre-language miasma past, and may end up doing it in the over-populated future, so why not recognize the true enemy isn't our capacity for survival but our own antiquated morality? All those meat sticks starving because they only eat cows and we ran out of grass to feed the cows are the worst kind of hypocrites. To paraphrase that Dylan's Idiot Wind, we're lucky we can even eat ourselves. After all, nearly ever other species of carnivore probably does it, when they have to. Sharks do it. Know what happens to the principled objector to cannibalism in starvation conditions? Sharks on the other hand, still going strong even through epoch-ending asteroids.

But amid the hypocrisy in SOYLENT is a very touching and moving sequence I need to talk about, involving the disillusioned Eddie Robinson's trip "Home". It's the real climax of the film and if you haven't seen it, stop reading here as it could count as an AMBER SPOILER ALERT!

I got this off some Christian blog, hence the hilarious subtitle
When people can no longer take the heat of dystopia there is a nice available option in Soylent Green: 'Home' - a giant white (air-conditioned!) edifice that draws the shambling elderly in like the clean white light at the end of a very long and filthy tunnel. It's no coincidence that once one decides to shuffle off one's mortal coil everything becomes suddenly magical and precious. It's like that when you're tripping for example, and have finally realized you're not dead.

Upon entrance to "Home," a man and a woman in white flowing robes let you pick the color of the blazing light you want to subsume you in the chamber, and the line to get a chamber isn't very long at all! And you get a full 20 minute film to bask in, kind of like one of those surround screen exhibits at Epcott Center.  I want to encourage the building of just such a room in every hospital, as a place not just for dying, but for tripping, instead of the usual clinical hospital setting where most legally approved medical experiment therapeutic tripping is done.

Most of all, I wish my 100 year-old granny could have access to an assisted suicide set-up like that one; they won't let her just die in her nursing home and she's fairly healthy for a 97 year-old. She can barely hear or see anymore, and can't walk because of a bad hip, and can't really think straight for long periods but she could be good for another 5 or 10 years. I know she'd at least like to have the option. Her own mom died at 107--and the last 17 years (!) kind of sucked). Her words.

And the scene where Heston says good-bye to Robinson in the chamber is so beautiful and touching it contrasts the general misery of the rest of the movie to such an extent we can hardly bear to return. And there's a reason it's some of the best acting Heston has ever done:

"This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared; he died of cancer twelve days after the filming, on January 26, 1973. Heston was the only member of the crew that Robinson told of his cancer (immediately before filming the scene of Robinson's character's death), knowing that this knowledge would deeply affect Heston, and therefore his playing of the scene. Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the make-up tests for Planet of the Apes (1968)." (WIKI)
John Nesbitt at Old School Reviews put it this way:
Those ARE real tears falling from the Chuckster's eyes when he gazes upon Sol's poignant farewell. Heston need not resort to his Ben Hur technique of burying his eyes to feign heartbreak; this time the tears flow . . . effortlessly and honestly. Immediate "method acting" is forced on Heston naturally since he knew that Robinson truly was dying and that this would be the last scene that the legendary actor would ever perform. Thus, the tears are real—a gut wrenching fusion of fiction and real life drama. That alone makes the film well worth examining.

Robinson's devotion to his chosen craft was full and total so it's fitting and courageous that he uses his impending death to transform what might have been just a so-so or even hammy moment into something very, very beautiful. The film never spells out directly what's to come as Robinson enters "Home" but we have a pretty good idea and it makes the kindness of the assistants and the air conditioning extra vivid.  For all the sorrow and misery in the rest of the film here, finally, is some grace. Just knowing that Robinson will at least have a beautiful 20 minute drugged-out trip into the yawning blazing white yoni light of death is enough to make us happy for him. He can finally appreciate his legacy, like a painter who at last steps back to see the big picture.


It's in that spirit that I feel right about mentioning my last golden moment with my dying dad, a week or so ago, down in North Carolina, drinking and watching LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, shivering in the air conditioning and stark brilliance of each actor, their ebbs and high tides of drunken dysfunction rendered into black magic poetry under Sydney Lumet's alchemical care. If the the "Home" sequence in SOYLENT was lengthened into a whole three hour film it might look like this. Lumet creates in this tight, long film something eternally free and yet crushed before it has a chance to fly. It's tragic, poetic in its defiance of death, a reverse funhouse mirror to mine own family (two brothers, alcoholism, one's a poet, one realizes he's going to maybe die very soon, etc.). Anyway, my dad and I bonded big under the black and white brilliance of it all, attuned to each others' rapture in a way that brought us together as film always had, from when he first showed my GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER on afternoon UHF TV when I was five, up to now.

And during a pause button moment he told me about how his doctors wanted to give him an enzyme treatment that might extend his life by as much as a month (and maybe not at all), but he had decided to save Medicare the $200,000. price tag. I thanked him on behalf of America. Without the staggering power of Lumet's film that conversation might never have happened. I was proud of my dad for his decision, and it seemed the magnificent, brooding dysfunctional drama unspooling before us was inspiring us to unleash all our boozy courage and wit to bear on the most painful and eternal of all topics...

And then the next morning I couldn't even say goodbye as he was in the shower when I left and my mom was hustling me to the airport. The next time I saw him, he was white ashes.


If he came back as Soylent Green, I'd have a few honorary nibbles. I'm not fussy about food. Why the hell shouldn't my dad get the same sacramental props as the Big Jesus with his blood red wine? Farmers can bond with their future breakfast, it's not that hard. Are you saying my Big Daddy's not as tasty as a cow or Jesus? (PS - I get my sense of gallows humor from his side of the family, so don't worry about me offending him).

Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)
But sparing that, to be able to mourn and say farewell to him as he actually died, arranging it all in a beautiful farewell ceremony ending like the scene in Soylent... why wouldn't that have been more humane than just doping him up and waiting out the clock, for him to slip numbly away, by himself, at four in the afternoon, in a sterile hospital bed, a few weeks after I'd returned to NYC?

The hypocratic oath and fundamentalist bible thumpers would never let "Home" happen, of course. For them death must be a desperate, miserable, lonesome ordeal, every last inch of ground and time fought over, all so doctors can bankrupt our unborn grand children's Social Security. I say Euthanize the Vote! Naked Lunch of the future, it's time to write your last menu and testament. Then again, the doctors of our world do dish out opiated hospice-strength cocktails to the truly terminal (my mom crushed up and threw away all my dad's before I could swipe it, alas), and there's angelic visiting hospice nurse Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in MAGNOLIA (1999), pretending to light LONG DAY's Jason Robards cigarette as he dies of cancer. I hope someone does that for me.


Like Robinson in SOYLENT, Robards was really dying during the filming of MAGNOLIA and to see him transmuting his real-life dying pain into a deeply, terribly moving final extended death scene is once again to marvel at the deep courage our best actors show in using their immanent real life death in their art. Maybe we can use his and Robinson's examples to encourage our medical establishment to go a little deeper with the idea of assisted suicide and the chance for death to be more than just an ugly abject bodily function. To paraphrase Bing Crosby, death is agonizing, inevitable, a heartache either way, but beautiful... If we ever find the courage to actually look it in the twinkling eye, I imagine we'll find it all but irresistible.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

CinemArchetype 13: The Skeevy Boyfriend


They turn up less in actual fairy tales and myths, perhaps because they don't translate well to narrative, wherein their skeevy qualities are harder to pin down, contingent as they are on the bridge between mental vision and actuality. Tim Robbins in High Fidelity is one who might look good on paper, around the fire, on the cave wall, or in his own mind, but through our and John Cusak's eyes he's a walking douche chill.

As a viewer we want to see these guys get their comeuppance, willfully blind to the similarity between how the skeevy guy sees himself (as awesome) and how skeevy we ourselves may secretly seem when we look into a mirror under harsh florescent lighting. Part of this is an older sibling revulsion towards the younger, towards traits we long ago excised from ourselves (we hope). The skeevy boyfriend represents these traits come back from the repressed, and if they steal your girl then you know you've lost something vital in yourself along with all the negative stuff you got rid of. The skeevy boyfriend doesn't correspond to the woman's animus or any other significant constellation of traits and symbols, rather he's like the dust that settles when the shelf is too long empty. He wins by default, or worse, because he's genuinely supposed to be the leading man, put there by delusional casting directors.

I like some of the actors below, in roles not listed here, and I think it's a testament to their brave acting ability they can delve so deep into dislikabilty and be convincing and not have it be totally ridiculous that they have friends and maybe even have a shot at the girl. In using the term 'skeevy' here I'm blowing it out to mean anyone in the movies who tries to win the girl meant for Cary Grant, or us; anyone who fails to see the difference between the persona required for social and private acceptance; any dude who buys into the phony promises of the patriarchal sphere, who goes to Bed Bath and Beyond with his girlfriend and doesn't fight with her. The skeeve represents our own frailty, our own insecurity, the danger of ever thinking we can 'pass' as cool leads without first knowing ourselves. They are base humanity's desperate, pleading grin. The girl we like goes out with him almost just to drive us crazy. We could never be like him, could we? Are we? It's the discrepancy of when we see our gorgeous selves in the mirror and then take a picture and suddenly we're all washed out, eyes glazed and beady, jawline weak, a pale washed-out dead beer-soaked wastrel of a self. How on earth did that happen?

I tried to cover an array of ground here which meant leaving out classics of the archetype like Pete Campbell in Mad Men (he's too complex to be all skeeve, though), or the cheating louses of Noah Baumbach films like Jack Black (Margot at the Wedding) and Jeff Daniels (Squid and the Whale). The list is limitless. The question is, are you one of them? Or are you a squid and a whale!?

 1. 3-Way tie: Oscar Shaw in The Cocoanuts (1929) / Jack Buchanan in Monte Carlo (1930), Danny Huston in Birth (2004)

What is it about that weird toothy grin and double-scoop ice cream head that makes all three of these characters so darn creepy? We can tell just from his engagement party speech that Danny Huston's character in Birth is a weird uber-rich bourgeois control freak who subscribes to the tenets of capitalism, and therefore has placed a huge value on Kidman's lack of interest in him. Just seeing Huston onscreen makes the skin crawl even though there's nothing particularly wrong with him; Huston can play anything from romantic charmer to Nordic vampire, so naturally he's versatile (and brave) enough to creep us out via evincing subliminal skeeve. And you later even feel bad for him when this dumb kid tries to horn in on his action.

 Oscar Shaw and Jack Buchanan meanwhile--reside in that muddy, hissy and crackly trough between silent and sound cinema; they are both victims of their era's dolty insistence that music hall 'juveniles' should have a big shit-eating grin on their faces at all times. It doesn't help that Buchanan seems quite closeted in Monte Carlo, to the point where every crack he makes about wanting to get 'some' smacks of a vile burlesque of heterosexual masculinity's displays of aggression. As I wrote in 2008:
He (Buchanan) channels his frustrated desire for men into his aggressive pursuit of Jeanette MacDonald and what's the fun in that? When Chevalier leers at MacDonald in her negligee, it's okay, as it comes with the sense of his being much-laid and genuinely into her as a gal. By contrast, to see the way Buchanan looks at her--his ghoulish smile plastered on as if permanently painted--is to see leering at its creepiest. To a 21st century audience with some idea of gay culture, it's fairly easy to see he's taking out his closeted frustrations playing the straight with all the vile aggression he thinks straight girls want, solely to prove himself "a man" to closeted queer pals Tyler Brooke and a doe-eyed hairdresser hunk (John Roche). When this gay threesome sings "Trimmin' the Women" the double entendres become triples, and the fun dissipates. Buchanan's tenacity as MacDonald's wooer rings like the obsessive stalker's, as when Robert Stack crowds in on Bacall in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, staring at her mouth like a deaf actor, seeming as if he might suddenly pounce, Renfield-like, at a fly on her lower lip. Imagine Edward Everett Horton crossed with Nosferatu and there's Buchanan - fine in a horror film, but not so much as a romantic lead. We in the audience might titter occasionally, but we can't relax, anymore than the families of the repressed cowboys in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN can..
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2. Sidney Berger as John Linden in Carnival of Souls (1962)
At the Criterion Contraption, Matthew Dessler writes of Berger:
"His character is a type of person you don't see too much of in film. He's fiercely anti-intellectual, but in kind of a charming way, starts his day off with whiskey in his coffee, and comes on to Mary Henry full speed ahead from the moment he sees her. In fact, his pursuit of Mary Henry is the focus of the middle third of the film, which is kind of strange because it isn't supernatural in the least. In the horror movies I'm used to seeing, by the end of the first act most subplots are subordinated to whatever the main horror of the film is, but this one doesn't intersect with Mary's other problems at all until the end of the second act. It's a strange choice, but actually, the scenes between Berger and Hilligoss are some of the best written and fastest moving in the movie.
 I think that there's a very ingenious reason these scenes are the best written and occur so late, and it's also the reason we recoil from his character: he's unbearably slimy, but he's honest about his intentions and feelings and like our heroine he's utterly alone and creeped out by everything in this nowhere middle American town, including himself; he's like a working class alcoholic version of Pete Campbell in Mad Men. And Candace is terrified to be alone so wants John for protection, but he wont stop hitting on her. He's a one track guy so either/or, and she's stuck on the slash. Haven't we all been there, when we're so damn lonely, drunk and scared of dying that we bed whoever happens to available, even if they still skeeve us out after sixteen whiskeys?

3. John Malkovich - Portrait of a Lady (1993)

After the success of The Piano, which even we in the early 90s ecstasy-popping Wetlands-going, Mud-playing scene saw and talked about endlessly, hopes for Jane Campion's next project were almost as high as we were. Unfortunately Campion went with Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady" and she's never made a great movie since.

What was Campion thinking? We all wanted to see an emancipated Nicole Kidman in cute tight deconstructed purple period dresses but we sure as hell didn't want her to throw her newly-won fortune away on John Malkovich as a manipulative aesthete. Malkovich? Really? Just because Barbara Hershey said so? And bald and way too comfortable in his own oversize blouse? It was like seeing Natalie Portman marry the gollum and use her inheritance to underwrite his trips to Sotheby's ancient ring auctions.

4. Albert Brooks - Taxi Driver (1972)
Travis: [about Tom] I would say he has quite a few problems. His energy seems to go in the wrong places. When I walked in and I saw you two sitting there, I could just tell by the way you were both relating that there was no connection whatsoever. And I felt when I walked in that there was something between us. There was an impulse that we were both following. So that gave me the right to come in and talk to you. Otherwise I never would have felt that I had the right to talk to you or say anything to you. I never would have had the courage to talk to you. And with him I felt there was nothing and I could sense it. When I walked in, I knew I was right. Did you feel that way?
Betsy: I wouldn't be here if I didn't.
Travis: ...That fellow you work with. I don't like him. Not that I don't like him, I just think he's silly. I don't think he respects you.
Brooks [on "Taxi Driver"] After we finished the movie, Schrader [Paul Schrader] came up to me at the cast party and said, 'I want to thank you. That was the only guy in the script I didn't know.' I said to him, 'That's the guy you didn't know? You knew every pimp and murderer, but the guy who gets up and goes to work every day - him you didn't know?'

5. British boyfriend in Repulsion (1959)
With a few laddish sneers, a shaving razor dumped rudely into Catherine Deneuve's bathroom toothpaste rinsing glass, a general attitude of entitlement and gross physical presence, this goofus all but leaves a choking musky aftershave smell over the sisters' flat you can feel through Deneuve's rarefied nostrils for days. Imagine Blanche Dubois cranked to eleven via your morbid acuteness of the senses and Stanley Kowalski with his animal magnetism swapped out for some garish sideburns and you have an idea of some of what poor Deneuve goes through at the beginning of Polanski's classic. Though we barely even see him he's a classic exhibit A in the defining of the skeevy beau archetype--his masculine entitlement and unconscious bullying make him ready to appear on Mad Men--but Polanski does more to illustrate how these guys choke the beauty out of birds than the entire MM season (5) so far...

6. Monroe Owsley (in everything)
Forever typecast as the drunken son in HOLIDAY, Monroe Owsley (pictured with Thelma Todd in a still from CALL HER SAVAGE) will be familiar to any pre-code enthusiast as the “swine” who seduces naive heroines, impregnating and abandoning, blackmailing and tom-catting, social climbing and dragging innocent girls down with him on his fall, all with a plastered sneer as he leans forward with his weird nose just begging to be punched. He makes Tom Cruise seem humble, makes Richard Gere seem like the Buddha. He’s cast to make the other guy’s gentle dull decency seem sexy by contrast. He’d do well on match.com! But Owsley died young in a car accident and manipulative jerks like his characters became less popular as time went on. There was no time for cowards when WW2 rolled around, and afterwards, Breen’s code made sure girls were protected from tomcat tricks, and by the 1960s there was birth control so no one cared... until lately. Nowadays he'd be that hypocrite senator who preaches abstinence and then fires his assistant for rejecting his married advances.


 7. Charlie Ruggles, Roland Young, Charles Butterworth, and Tyler Brooke
For all its wonders, being a pre-code cinema fan means a good part of your life is spent watching Young or Butterworth or Ruggles bust moves and flatter away and get nowhere with beautiful, usually taller women. It’s never funny (at least to me), but it seems to be necessary as reassurance and/or shading, to highlight the good qualities of the hero by having a schmuck around to bear all the odious ones. Sometimes these guys do get the girl (Young and Ruggles do all right, and all have a chance with Zasu Pitts or Billie Burke should either be around), but we learn by seeing, and kids like me grow up thinking it’s okay to have short people hit on your wife, because hey, you’re tall and so what? They're no threat, haw haw. And short people learn that they’re meant to be terse and klutzy, insecure and bald and uncouth and never get the girl. Movies teach us that short people are meant to squirm with longing and gradually turn venomous, after which their Napoleonic codes get so complex that Stanley Kowalski must sometimes be sent in. (Short People Got - 3/11/08 -BLAD)

 8.  Ralph Bellamy
Hey - he's not skeevy per se, nor are many of the actors here, but he's a genius at being the 'safe, sensible' code-sanctioned choice when a bride is wary of Cary Grant or Gary Cooper. We all can imagine a happy and romantic life with either of those two, but thinking about a honeymoon with Bellamy, and a lifetime of darning his socks while his live-in mother henpecks and suffocates with doilies under every heirloom lamp, I can't breathe just writing about it. His earnest aw shucksiness is the sort of thing Algonquin wits like Ben Hecht can't resist hurling barbs at ("a home with mother... in Albany, too!") At the root of it all is the danger of a husband never straying from under mom's thumb, and so marrying him just means you're conscripted into his mother's roster of browbeaten subjects. Bellamy remains then stuck in the past era's morality, along with his small-town ma, exhibit A of the importance of leaving home and rebelling against mater asap, in all things, and for the slightest of reasons.

9. Bruce Dern - Coming Home (1978)and The Trip (1967)
He's pretty creepy as the 'guide' who messes with Peter Fonda's mind in THE TRIP. If you've been there you know the sort, masking what we expect are unseemly come-ons with hippy drippage about touch and closeness. Hippy or no, Dern is frequently a little skeevy, even if he's not treating his girls like tripping children, babying and belittling and humoring until they are yellow-wallpaper-driven to madness. Fonda's acid trip really doesn't pick up until he escapes Dern's crazy pad and heads off into la L.A. nocturne. If Dern had his way, god knows where Peter Fonda would have ended up. It sure as well wouldn't have been in bed with Salli Sachs.


In Ashby's undervalued classic, Coming Home, Dern is married to Peter's sister Jane, and a Vietnam officer too asinine to question the validity of his morals. In not doing so he embodies the Beatles' lyric heard in the film: "Living is easy with eyes closed..." His attitude of snickering, unconscious entitlement reminds me of every boorish moron I ever met while crashing frat parties. His character eventually loses out to Voight and goes for "the long swim" but if only he'd hung around awhile of course, he wouldn't have to worry-- the summer of love Jon Voights of the world lost out to the banal conformity and narrow sloppy drives of the Derns by 1981. All you need is love, but for the Derns of the world love is just another word for orgasm and instead of reciprocating going out to high five with the boys as soon as possible.

10. Herbert Marshall in Blonde Venus (1933)
I mention Marshall to illustrate the array of actors who can be skeevy one film then not skeevy the next (Marshall was the lead in Lubitsch's lovely Trouble in Paradise the same year). His character doesn't really to deserve, necessarily, to be on this list. He is after all the father of Marlene's tiresomely cute tyke in the film but Dietrich was never meant for the soapy martyr picture. Her ability to wash her child with Teutonic harshness while doing eight other things equally harshly is very very German, but too terrifying to seem truly maternal. And JVS ignores the bulk of the soapy genre's accredited angst in favor of long tracking shots through night clubs and along departing and arriving boatloads of passengers from and to Europe, where Marshall is sent for radium poisoning treatments thanks to cuckoldin' Cary Grant's generosity.

Who wouldn't rather see Grant and Dietrich together than see her go home to Marshall and that sticky-sweet home life situation? But the bitter formula must be served, even if you warm it first with pre-code smarts and glitzy gorilla suits. And man, Grant and Dietrich together... why didn't it happen more often? Sternberg definitely finds a darker, more abstract side of Grant, keeping him shrouded in dark shadow and frozen in arty cigarette ad poses. He merges and blends into Von Sternberg's dream-like maze of masks with perfect posture and elan. Marshall should be grateful for such a man's cuckoldry not to mention financial support, but he then tersely threatens to shoot him... dead. Hmm, that's not very cricket, Herbert. Your character in Trouble in Paradise would never be so... how you say.... uncouth?  I've always hated the guy who tried to whine and bully his way back into an old love's heart for, as the later era-Lou Reed song goes, "I'm a NYC man / blink your eyes and I'll be gone."

11. David Gurian as Harris - in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
While nosing around for 'Fugitive Kind' shots in my last post I found a great comment comparing Russ Meyer and Williams, since both were of the mind that a man is a failure if he can't satisfy his woman and it's her right to seek a stronger specimen and to keep seeking until she's satisfied. Amen, and that quote would have been perfect for Harris here. In my mind he's the truer villain of the film, Z-Man's anti-lesbian homicidal crack-up aside (which I think was inserted just to answer the demand for misogynistic violence by Ebert's under-laid, tormented imagination).  Just look at that unassuming twinkle in his eyes (above).. he's just not ready for the fast track insanity of the Valley. Hell, he can't even satisfy the unquenchable Ashley St. Ives. And so to teach them all a lesson he hurls himself from the lighting rigs during a live taping. And somehow in Ebert's twisted fecund mind that kind of behavior should be rewarded!

12.  Elliott Reid Detective Malone in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
A detective prone to smarmy moral high ground posturing, "the human ferret" just wants the brunette to admit the blonde he's hired to catch compromised is foul. When Jane says "I think I'm in love with that poor slob" and means Malone you really have no idea why. Just look at his smarmy grin in the pic above. At least Gus, the other moron male--the one chasing after Marilyn-- is inoffensive, a kind of Franklin Pangborn Jr. with owl glasses that fog up when Monroe kisses him--but Reid is unbearably smug and is the sole reason this film isn't one of my top ten favorite Hawks' films.

13. Max Von Sydow - Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Max von Sydow's relentless physicality and come-ons with his insane wife seems like both the cause and cure of her malady. At what point does horny husbandly affection turn vile? Certainly he seems his usual Sydow self in the film's other scenes, but when she's onscreen he starts right back up driving her over the edge with his needy come-ons. Bergman's made lots of slow but absorbing chamber pieces on his crazy island Faro and they're all classics that get better with each new viewing, but what keeps me away from seeing this a second time is the memory of my man Max suddenly reduced to one of those horny joes who keeps everyone awake at group slumber parties.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tennessee Williams at the Mill of Rubes


If a bunch of method-trained actors crashed their bus in the middle of nowhere Louisiana and tried to pass as locals so as to not get lynched, the resulting brood-athon might look a lot like The Fugitive Kind (1959). Marlon Brando, radiant, and way too good for it all plays a god-like guitar-slinging drifter who winds up in a romance with older Italian shop owner Ann Magnani and together they face a hard mob of drunken good-old-boys managed by Anna's bitter, sweaty, invalid husband (Victor Jory, practically stealing the movie). In other words it's the kind of vehicle the gay drunk genius cranked out by the dozen for his muse, Magnani, plopping her down in the midst of his usual rentboy deep south fantasias, there to emote and assume postures and be as out of place as a marble Madonna statue in the middle of a leering drunk redneck saloon.

In this outing she's running a general store in this Nowheresville town, scarred by memories of racist mob violence against her father (he dared serve drinks to colored people at his wine bar, so they burnt it down), and yet married to racist Jory, who's dying and sweat-soaked twisted up on morphine upstairs. Into all this strained soapiness walks Brando, his snakeskin jacket a symbol of his individuality and his handling of his guitar as awkward as a formal embrace on a lavender honeymoon. He could have hot mess Joanne Woodward (top), who's never seemed sexier, but he prefers glum middle-aged Magnani, thus hinting that his character is not entirely straight. He wants a mother, not a lover. And while he claims to be free, he's so closeted/closed-off that snakeskin may as well be a strait-jacket.


The film's stiltedness is perhaps partially explained by it's being based on a play called Battle of Angels which had been sitting around Williams' desk for twenty years before he refigured it into something called Orpheus Descending. The 1950s being the age of pop culture Freud, birth control, and the Kinsey report, Williams' plays were huge hits both with critics and decadent-insight-seeking audiences, large and intelligent and starved for controversy. That said, he'd clearly run out of things to say by the time he dug his old Battle of Angels script out of hiding. Who among us hasn't gone thumbing through old work for inspiration? But he should have left the Battle alone. After all, he had already taken the best bits out of it and used them in other plays.

Also, director Sydney Lumet's shadowy noir style seems way too reverent for the dirty south. His actor-coddling is pure New York City, or any city, and not the backwards county where Fugitive unfolds. And Brando is, to put it mildly, the most unconvincing, uncomfortable looking drifter/troubadour since Sterling Hayden in Johnny Guitar (1954), with which Fugitive would make an apt if excruciating double bill. Both concern guitar slinging outlaws hooking up with middle-aged, coded dyke saloon/store owners and battling vicious townsfolk together as their place burns up. Oh my god, it's the same damned movie!


The thing that Johnny gets right that Fugitive doesn't understand is that stock outlaw guitar heroes need to be played by less awesome actors than Brando or Hayden to not seem forced: Sterling is just too big a person to fit into the generic guitar playing drifter outlaw dungarees. And Brando is even bigger than Hayden, so why is he trying so hard? Each monologue is practically hung on the wall of the Whitney like an Americana masterwork, and I don't mean that as a compliment. The dialogue wouldn't be bad for a normal writer, but this is Williams, we expect to be boggled and we've seen this collection of archetypes and deep south incidents before: Woodward's nympho bleached blonde was already essayed by Carroll Baker in Baby Doll and Sue Lyon in Night of Iguana; the Anna Magnani had already done the horny middle-aged Italian widow in The Rose Tattoo; Ava Gardner stole (and to my mind improved) the Magnani role in Iguana; the dying redneck husband shivering in the junky morphine prescription heat was done by Burl Ives in Cat; and as usual there's some unspoken homosexual implications, i.e. Jory and his dumb redneck brother have suspicions about our guitar-wearing Brando, downstairs at the general store ala Long Hot Summer, out the previous year (by Faulkner but similar).

A main problem in Fugitive aside from its cliches is that we can't quite believe an Adonis like Brando would be bothering to hang around these stifling swampy Louisiana backwaters taking odd jobs. The beginning indicates he was busted hustling and is trying to go straight, but an actor of Brando's caliber has no business being a mere noble; his teeth are too perfect, his demeanor too polished. He's out of jail, why not split for NYC and hustle? A boy like him could make a fortune. Either way, the gay subtext is the only way any of it makes sense. The vicious hatred the town rubes have for anyone wild or different seems a beard for homophobia. Brando's 'crimes' here aren't otherwise great enough to stir the wrath of the town in quite such a vicious, heated way. What the hell is a 'mixed party' anyway, if not code for a pre-Stonewall 'mixer'? The handful of saints like Maureen Stapleton as a local painter are talked up by Brando in hushed cobra monotones until they sway before him like hypnotized chickens, surely such a talker could hypnotize hateful rubes into liking him if he wanted to. It's clear Brando's outlaw prefers a firehose crucifixion to any kind of real acceptance.

 What Brando's 'fugitive kind' doesn't grasp is that beautiful people only trudge through the dirty south for a reason. Paul Newman understood: in Sweet Bird of Youth his cocky rentboy is shanghaiing a drunken Hollywood patroness and her Cadillac so he can lay claim to his hometown sweetheart from her lynchy mayor father, and it works because, though Newman is in some ways even prettier than Brando, Newman knows the way to seem a realistic redneck is to taint one's beauty with cocky, needy cluelessness. When an already-perfect demigod puffs out his chest and struts to impress he suddenly seems faintly ridiculous and that's why Newman's performance works where Brando's fails. In refusing to show off and betray the insecure little boy behind the bravado, Marlon never quite 'gives' us anything. He's so wise to his own bullshit he barely says an untrue word, which means he barely says anything but trite poetic monologues.
  
Streetcar was subtler by actually being more histrionic --that's the paradox Fugitive director Sydney Lumet doesn't seem to understand, and maybe wouldn't until Klute eight years later: no one should ever be all the way 'beautiful' and making a Williams play work involves letting an actor become so much themselves that the seams of their persona break and the hideous lonely hunger of their soul comes busting out like taxidermy sawdust. A master of getting sawdust out of his actor's taxidermy persona masks? John Huston, as in his Williams adaptation, Night of the Iguana. 


A director unable to understand the Williams sawdust principle? Joseph Loesy in Boom! (1968, above). Here Taylor and Burton merely dump sawdust tonnage upon the stage as if it's a suitable shortcut to brilliance. But of course that doesn't work. The pain has to be real, the sawdust fresh, the stitches in the mask newly ripped, to grab us.


And while sometimes you need a villain-- Karl Malden in Baby Doll, who, like the racists of Fugitive, dig on torching Italian-owned business; or Jack Carson's doltish 'no-neck monster' brood in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or the closeted lesbian stereotypes like Ms. Fellowes in Iguana--when Williams is at his best there's no villains or hicks or closets at all. In Streetcar everyone is sympathetic, even the brute Stanley is charismatic, god and gorilla all in one, and the un-PC-ness flows free. When Williams is done right monologues are ranted or recited the way we natter on to people we know aren't really listening to us in real life. When Williams is done wrong, as he is in Fugitive Kind, monologues go on while the onscreen listener stands at rapt attention, like at a poetry reading.


All that said, it's still fascinating as a film, just for its Williams laundry list effect. Brando is gorgeous and at least when he does sing and play it's actually his voice and guitar doing it (hearing Brando cautiously sticking to a few lightly brushed chords and singing in a half-whispered croon works only because you wonder if his character really doesn't know how to play and it's just no one's told him because he's so gorgeous). And Woodward lights up the screen as the wild drunk nymphomaniac but she's not around for whole stretches of the film, and we're left with this half-baked, zombie-like romance between Magnani and Brando.

This tepid romance is just not convincing and whole stretches are formulaic, but it doesn't matter. If you're a Williams, Brando, or Lumet fan (and you should be all three), you need to see this movie, if for no other reason than to unlock the joys and motivations of the other, better films. Somehow seeing a genius faltering backwards into amateurishness makes his great work all the more noble. There's a great fountain of truth and enthusiastic idealism one can drink from when indulging amateurishness: the amateur's inability to dilute his poetry's potency in the minutiae of realism is like watching a clumsy magician give his tricks away, i.e. it's fun on a whole other level than intended.  The poetry is still fresh and raw, so you can feel the rush of swooning in drunken euphoria over a late night typewriter. Such a euphoria can help us all find the courage to become alcoholic titans, writing into existence the scalpels that will tear open future actor's masks, and sprinkle the sawdust of the soul large upon screens yet to be. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

MAD MEN, in the bad way

And about MAD MEN this season (only on AMC) - how come it's so squirmy and preoccupied with being vile and no one likes each other anymore? Now that the fifth season brain frieze has begun we've had to wonder if we'll ever get our awesome show back -- the one where we thrilled to see high powered drunks in action: getting high and telling off hippies; pissing their pants before big client pitches; inventing the term 'carousel' for Kodak in a non-dry eye house pitch; struggling to remember the password at a mob-run gambling house, and of course, Don's chain-smoking womanizing hard drinking stallionsmanship and his super cool alpha dogs unchained relationship with Roger Sterling?

This semester old Don's married to some young yeh yeh girl with a sexy crooked smile and he's determined to stay faithful, to the point of taking the dull moral high ground even unto Pete Campbell, silently judging old Pete just for getting some and wanting to feel in charge when it's plain to see he's totally whupped by his alpha dog sweet bitch wife. So far we've even seen Don lecture Rolling Stones groupies, strangle an old flame in dream effigy, quietly cut down on his smoking and drinking, even giving his new wife a hard time for throwing him a surprise party. In his middle age he's become a tedious moral guardian. And the show itself seems more concerned with getting all the period mod furnishings just so than actually recreating an air of exciting pre-PC possibility and balls.

We don't go to Don for a lesson in morals. We go to Don to see our libidinal wrongs unchecked and amok; we like his hypocrisy and brave drug-taking that sometimes leaves him roofied and bloodied in hotel rooms he rented with sexy young couples on the lam, but even then he doesn't feel guilty. We miss Betts shooting at the neighbor's carrier pigeons after he threatens to poison their dog; we miss the drunken bridge parties and outdoor garage full of beer; we miss the ease with which Don compartmentalized a dozen different shitty behaviors, all of which made his moral facade hilarious and apt. Now the hilarity is gone but the stern morals remain and as a result everyone in the cramped new offices are at each others' throats.

Meanwhile, the younger generation in the office is picking up the slack in all the wrong ways -- they're all sleazy frat boy gestures and no action, while Don was always very verbally respectful of his women, even advising Pete Campbell on the first day of the first episode "people won't like you" for being such a shit to women. The shits remain, but Don doesn't lead by example (of how to be a satyr without being a snickering frat boy) he lectures like the guy who sowed all his oats and now wants everyone else to learn from his empty-oat sack example.

All I want to say is, Dick Whitman, yo: Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill are still decades away so why not live it up while you can, sexual harassment in the workplace-wise? So far this season has deliberately withheld conspiratorial vicarious partying from us, even via Roger Sterling, who used to be my favorite and is now struggling with the irrelevance of his type of hardcore boozer prostitute procurer under the new Mad Men rubric which declares only misery, desperation, and humorless sanctimony can reign.  The Lucky Strike campaign is long gone, and no one is allowed to feel rich and secure inside that horrible claptrap modernist office space. And Don's hip new apartment is kind of, I don't know, too showroom bourgeois-in-a-bohemian-mood showroom sterile?


Adding to the insecurity is the tired trope of centering each new episode around some icky historical newspaper outburst: the Richard Speck nurse murders prompt terror and sleeping under couches one week; the Whitman Texas tower sniping prompts anxiety about sending daughters off to college the next. It was a time when the nation seemed to be coming apart at the seamszzzz. All we need is a cliche'd overused pop song from the late 60s to make it complete (rather than Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" or Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" we get the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," but all that does is make us nervous Mad Men's wasting too much money for the licensing).

And then we have domestic non-bliss with abusive pretty boy MASH surgeons and bossy mother-in-laws; we have Betts gone obese from stress and maybe a tumor; we have icky little near-affairs with the Brit with the bad skin; we have icky little near-affairs with reptilian mongrel Pete Campbell at driving class. Oh brother do we have icky little near-affairs... where's Don with the non-icky? He's too busy scowling to even crack a joke.


That's all I wanted to say but I had to say it, especially since last night I saw for the first time Fassbinder's LOLA, which is so full of cool, amoral intelligence and luxurious libidinal disillusion it was like a summertime smack in the face compared to Don's lion in glum morally self-righteous winter. Don, get your act un-together. We need that old libidinal train wreck, or at least a man with the balls to let lesser men pursue the same vices he once did without self-righteously judging them. How does Don think HE would have reacted back in season one if some codger like Burt Cooper laid into him about being true to his wife and not indulging in the client party girl pool? Don would have solemnly nodded, then done whatever the hell he wanted. People, this is TELEVISION! Don't you have some  Jon Hamm voiceover luxury-driven car commercials you want us to see? Then show us why luxury still matters! Only... from Hondota!