Friday, August 24, 2012

It's here, it's mindbending, it's Acidemic #8



This issue: Brecht-Godard-Wood, linked circlets connecting the search for freedom through 'dislodging' cinematic signifiers and turning bare soundstages into ghost ships and surrealist basements. This year's stellar line-up batted down the plate and strewn orchids on the grave of logic.

If through the issue you notice very little Godard, know this: Godard is in all things whether we speak of him or no. There is no going straight from Brecht to Wood. I tried. But my own understanding of film studies comes roundabout through Godard's dedication to Monogram Pictures (whose Return of the Ape Man is discussed) at the start of Breathless. 

Ed Wood by Mick Baltes
Also in this mighty issue: Peter K. Tyson decodes the Brechtian intertexutality of Fassbinder's Lola; teenage Molly Marie Wright rages against the empty-headed CGI of the Total Recall remake vs. the paravegan grandeur of Troll 2. Intertextual frisson erupts as Thomas Duke challenges Roger Ebert's perception of 'flaws' in Edgar G. Ulmer's poverty row classic Detour; Chris Stengl exhumes Pauline Kael's 'lost' review of Plan Nine from Outer Space, and I lament the dryness of David Sterritt's Les Carabiniers commentary track. Film historian David Del Valle discusses the joys and inaccuracies of Tim Burton's Ed Wood while acclaimed Nuyorican poet Tracie Morris expresses her misgivings over Burton's Dark Shadows and praises the original 1,000+ episode TV show. We get insightful probes into the basement surrealism of both Val Letwon's The Ghost Ship (from Ethan Spigland), and Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (from Budd Wilkins). Gregory Cwik discusses metatextual threads in horror via Cabin in the Woods, and I through Halloween.... and through the valley of the shallows of Brecht, we shall find Woodsy depth.

And we learn how Godard's PrĂ©nom Carmen explains the truth about UFOs, for, as the great Eros would say, "you didn't actually think you were the only inhabited planet in the universe? How can any race be so stupid?"


And check out Memento Mori, the staggeringly detailed historical action figure comic by our cover artist, Mick Baltes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"I'm not afraid to die..." Tony Scott and Dangerous Women


The news of Tony Scott's unfortunate death, which floored all fans of ballsy film, came this Monday afternoon when I was already moping to my saddest Spotfiy mix at work, mulling over the last full season of our old Mayan calendar existence... to this I easily added morning for the first fallen soldier in the first day of fall, Awash with all the sad chicks in my headphones, I knew I needed to revisit DOMINO (2003) when I got home. It may seem an odd choice from his impressive repertoire, but I think it's his most personal film, almost a righting of the wrongs of one of his first films, THE HUNGER, from 20 years prior (1).


Scott's films tended to be both overrated and underrated in equal measure, at the same time. Like his older brother Ridley, he's a master of light and sound who'll go the extra distance for just the right shot, and that's not always a good thing.  Often self-hamstrung by second-guessing and over-editing, each has a style that indicates roots of insecurity and the sinking feeling they get lost in possibilities and completely lose sight of what their original vision was in the first place. That said, Tony's films deliver consistently and he leaves behind a legacy of beautiful and true moments in film even if the films around them didn't completely hang together. He was a courtier of reckless abandon in life and in cinema, like John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Abel Ferrara, and almost no one else. It's rarefied company, and he deserves his place among them.

Perhaps he's right now up in the crazy clouds, carousing with the real-life Domino Harvey, who died at 35 of a possible drug overdose (ruled as heart attack) the year their film was released. Maybe she's waiting at the bottom of the ocean (in my conception of the afterlife, the bottom of the ocean and the highest clouds are on the same level), with a devil's bounty hunter badge for him. If you ever see him in the DVD extras to his films he always seems like he's got one eye on the exit or the horizon, half-fully engaged (if it's possible, and with him I think it was), half recoiling from the acres of hangers-on and crew and cast all wanting something from him all the time, always talking about, and filming films about, ducking off into the sunrise with nothing but a gun, a suitcase of money, and a Hawksian woman. If you have the gun and the Hawksian girl, why do you even need to make a movie? Because he still can't get away from himself, except by working.

It's important the girl is the right girl and is not afraid to wear lots of black eyeliner or kill a man execution-style. They mustn't preach anti-gun violence / non-smoking / condom-conscious moral reform code or credo as so many A-list stars do in their smoke-free films. Scott never bowed to the PC reformers: in his films everyone smoked, because he liked to film the way sunlight through half-open blinds and cigarette smoke intermingle, and he knew the profound bond created by sharing cigarettes, and that they're cool regardless of killing people, and if you thought it was wrong to smoke indoors on a film set, for the health of the crew and the easily influenced kids watching at home, then go fuck yourself. Art with Scott bowed not to PC thuggery. Words can't express how rare or wondrous that attitude is in a land where everyone talks about being bad and subversive while having fainting spells and calling their lawyers if the road takes them even remotely close something like a genuine edge.

A small insufficient tribute, here are three of Scott's dangerous women, in reverse chronological order:


Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey - DOMINO (2003)
You can badmouth Tony Scott but if you do, and someone bashes a high contrast emerald beer bottle over your head, DOMINO is the proof you had it coming and that a lot of punchy fashion models might be healthier mentally if able to work bounty hunter jobs instead of just drug habits. Knightley is in good company with Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez as bounty hunters scrounging around L.A. All three have no problem being balls-to-the-wall badass and Tony Scott takes every opportunity to bash and savage the whinin' boys of the Hollywood industry when these bounty hunters get their option picked up. Knightley is so good that when she says "I'm not afraid to die," you believe her. It's not just idle MTV boasting.

Even if you've seen it and it just gave you a headache, watch it again, and then again, and you'll still be soaking up the details. Maybe Domino doesn't actually kill anyone (that I recall) but she does break an actor's nose just 'cuz he's a douche and deserves it and maybe the big mob stand-off climax seems like cliched overkill and much too similar to Scott's earlier TRUE ROMANCE but you can bet he tried the script and plot a dozen different ways before realizing this was the best and most cinematic way to go, and was full well aware of its derivative Hong Kong-ishness and it being ultimately unlike the real Domino, but as she says in the film, if she told us the full truth it would have to be sanitized so she wouldn't go to jail or have mobsters on her ass, and Scott knew it would be better to just lie bigger than truth smaller.

And anyway, they do way too much mescaline very convincingly. That forgives a lot, in the Acidemic lawbook.

Plus, Knightley's white satin beauty and adamantium razor cheekbone toughness is backed up by a strange and effective roster of side players: Christopher Walken, Delroy Lindo, Mo'Nique, Tom Waits, Mena Suvari, Macy Gray, Jacqueline Bissett, Dabney Coleman and Lucy Liu. Even against all these hard hitters, Kierra kills it.


Patricia Arquette as Alabama - TRUE ROMANCE (1993)
It's both hard and too easy to dig up misogynistic subtext in Tony Scott's films, but he loves showing super strong women who love their man and aren't disgusted if he still reads comic books, stays indoors watching kung fu on a sunny day, and kills people.

An example would be the way Alabama finds Christian Slater's murder of her pimp incredibly romantic... when we in the audience and Slater, like any PC-era antihero, are expecting a long moral harangue about the wrongness of violence, like Liz Hurley might lecture Austin Powers on safe sex, or John Connor his Terminator about "you can't just go around killing people." And we love the way Alabama faces off against hulking mob goon (the future Tony Soprano) in a fearless deadpan. Letting her bag of womanly tricks and feints run empty with a chuckle; mixing coy laughter and sudden, brutal, outside-the-box retaliations; it's a triumphant bit of acting and a ballsy move on the part of the director to film it so artfully and savagely.


I personally like TRUE a lot better than QT's directorial debut, RESERVOIR DOGS, which gets better as it goes along but has a painfully overwrought beginning (after the awesome diner scene) with much too much of Tim Roth yelling in pain like a little punter and fake blood and monotonous grey concrete decor. Alabama is ten times tougher than the whole damn lot of those dudes, save, naturally Lawrence Tierney; you can imagine her getting gut shot and just laughing about it while never trying to deny her mortal terror. That sort of chutzpah we really don't see again until Daniel Craig finds a way to laugh uproariously through his ball torture in CASINO ROYALE. Scott saw that women had to be tougher and stronger than men every day, and loved them for it, as we love them always now through his eyes.


NOTES:
1. The Hunger- a postscript, 8-13 - this was just on TCM - it's pretty upsetting because parts are amazing, especially everything with David Bowie, who modulates his rapid aging so superbly you forget what age he even is. Deneuve is also superb but Scott's vision really fails him, not least because the next lover Deneuve chooses is Susan Sarandon, a bad choice as she is in full moral piety mode, sabotaging the whole damn thing because she objects to killing people three times a week for the next 300 years, and as if the whole 'bad faith' angle wasn't bad enough (it's sunk better films than this: Interview with a Vampire, We Own the Night, Near Dark, The Lost Boys) Scott cranks up the jump cuts back and forth across time and space so now you can't even kill a person without intercutting ceiling fans, Bauhaus videos, and a crazy baboon. Good lord Tony, why make a lesbian vampire film just suck the fun out? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Touch by a Locust: EXORCIST II, MANHATTAN BABY


The riddle of the locust is that the locust is strong, but steel is stronger, so says (I wish) African locust shaman James Earle Jones in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), and it is my unofficial recommendation for this weekend, depending on your state of pan-dimensional inebriation and yen for Italian-style nightmare logic. Mine is strong, and the riddle of steel asked by Jones in Conan, is it turns out answered a mere six years earlier. Such doth time melt in the hand of the shaman in the locust helmet.

But before getting involved, know this: Richard Burton is the heretic of the title.

Yes, Richard Burton: the towering actor and booze-fume djinn was once, twice, three times a priest in film (not even counting his stint as the pedophile-shielding Bishop of Canterbury in Beckett), a weird thing for an A-list actor to be cast as, a priest, since nine times out of ten priests are depicted in film as boring old fogeys pooh-poohing, browbeating, boring, and benumbing everyone in earshot. Then again, Burton hungover is just like that: surly, sullen, cranky, sanctimonious, trading on his collar to excuse his rudeness, hiding his forgetfulness of lines and blocking via sweaty reticence. Burton in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) is a mess. He will make you wonder: can a panicky Welsh alcoholic touch a demon tinker bell locust wing and fly fly fly to Africa and back and into the arms of a demonic, sexy Linda Blair, believably? Or if not, will there be at least some camp? Not even. You need to applaud like hell to bring this demon back to life, lordy god lordy gone. 



And yet... fall approaches and doomsday December, and the bleakness of a member gone to ember turns one's heart to demon mentors, and as it's on the Netflix streaming, why not give Exorcist: the Heretic (1977) one more try?

Me, I tried myself to watch it once years ago, but never got past that first mind-boggling scene where Burton first watches Louise Fletcher hypnotize Regan so she can go back in time to the events in her bedroom during the climax of the last film (he 'needs' to find out how Father Karras died); then Regan hypnotizes Fletcher (while still hypnotized herself) so she can join her there, in the past, then Fletcher--in real time--is gasping in pain, because Pazuzu is clawing at her beating heart, in the past. So Burton tells Regan to hypnotize him so he can go back and rescue Fletcher, as if pulling some Dreamscape/Inception-style invasion is as easy as wearing a headband with some wires attached and staring into a flashing light for two seconds. As Fletcher says, "slow your tone!"

Back in time, Regan's devil make-up is being worn by a different actress massaging Fletcher's heart while Fletcher gasps and chokes and 'arghs'...


Minute-after-minute passes....

Regan begs Burton to do something, anything....

He just stares at Pazuzu/Regan, massaging Fletcher's exposed heart while staring lewdly at him, as if fondling her breast and bidding him join this macabre trans-dimensional threesome. \

Finally, after the moment plays on so long you think the editor must have fallen asleep, Burton croaks "in God's name," with nary a shred of holy conviction, and that's the end - Pazuzu fades away.

In God's name indeed. I, like so many before me with some idea of how hypnotism and holy powder--I mean power--actually works, stopped watching. Regan, turn it off! Turn it off! Slow yr tone!

Blair and Burton meet at the Natural History Museum, perhaps to blur the line between
its dioramas and the film's later unconvincing but interesting matte work
But last night I held on all the way, maybe because since that first disastrous attempt I've seen a lot of 70s Italian horror films and fallen under the demonic sway of ace composer Ennio Morricone. I didn't even know scored Heretic until his unique Italian soap opera on acid creepiness started around midway through the picture, almost as a reward for enduring the first half. Maybe it's just because he's so affiliated with 70s Italian horror, but Morricone's score triggers a weird glaze of surrealism and tolerance, allowing us to see what some critics might dub 'stupidity' as instead dream logic ala Argento or Fulci. We can learn to experience the film not as an official sequel to the original Exorcist but as an Italian Exorcist rip-off. And on that level, it's an instant faux classic. Just pretend all the lines are dubbed, and that you're tripping with Richard Pryor at a New York City grindhouse.


There's one Italian Exorcist knock-off in particular I'm thinking of, for it too mixes ESP, astral travel, mysterious shamans, and North African scenery, Lucio Fulci's Manhattan Baby (1982), which involves a mysterious amulet given to a kid visiting Egypt that later opens up a inter-dimensional stargate between some lost Pharaoh tomb and the family's uptown Manhattan apartment. Baby fills in the gaps left in the original Exorcist's parallel stories that Heretic never mentions, namely why/how Father Merrin's archeological dig in Iraq is responsible for Regan's possession. Is there a dimensional doorway involved between Iraq and Washington, as there is here between Manhattan and Egypt thanks to this amulet? (see Acidemic Journal of Film and Media #3, 2007 - The Exorcist in Iraq).


As the Manhattan continues the family returns home from Egypt and the children get sand all over their room from their travels back and forth at night so their parents get pretty pissed over all the sand in their bedrooms in the morning. But what's cool is for once the kids don't bother to tell their parents anything, and the parents never ask, so the Egyptologist dad never notices the amulet he's been searching for all his life is right there around his daughter's neck and magic dimensional doorways are opening all over the place. If a mummy jumped out and swallowed him he wouldn't deign to act surprised, and that's a nice comment on the generation gap as it really was in the 70s, which is how it should be. In the 70s kids roamed free like wild animals, with only one caveat - be close enough by that you can hear your mom call you in for dinner, yelling your name out the window. The parents do their thing--bridge, wife-swapping, cocktails, golf--you kids do your thing--interdimensional doorway traversing, murdering snoopers--and everyone minds their own business.

I can't even remember how Baby ends, but at least it will also help you sleep and make Heretic seem like Citizen Kane in comparison... or at least Beyond the Door.


What saves Heretic is James Earle Jones as etymology's Dr. Benway (top and below), a man who is simultaneously both a trippy locust-shaman and an etymologist working on ways to stop the swarms that regularly wipe out crops all across his native Africa.  I kept hoping he'd give Burton a flask of yellow bug powder so he could go around knocking on doors shouting "Exterminator!" and zapping Pazuzu's locust buddies even as his priestly collar turns into a black locust with a patch of white on its forehead. At any rate its easier to believe Jones as a multi-dimensional locust shaman than it is to believe Burton's a priest or that anyone ever is really in Africa. If you've ever had a fever or done psychedelics or read any Phillip K. Dick then you know that simultaneous multi-dimensional existence is doable, and Jones makes it seem feasible just from his gravitas. The way he effortlessly grasps Burton's lost, mangy situation on both fronts is pretty tripped out, and the highlight of the film.


The problem with Heretic is... and I hate to say this because I'm a fan-- Burton sucks in it. He must be unable to see straight in order to read cue cards, otherwise there's no reason he'd be so silent and sullen when he should be eating through the scenery like a wing-touched locust. Half the time he just ignores or doesn't answer direct questions posed by everyone from Regan to train conductors, like he's sulking because been promised a drink and isn't getting one. As the hours fritter by the shakes commence, or as he says as a much cooler priest in Night of the Iguana, "that's when the spook moves in." Burton at least got some opiate tea in that film, but he's pretty cut off in Heretic, and as the shakes come he tries to pass them off as holy madness, seizing his one chance at a diegetic libation by greedily gulping down a proffered sacramental wine goblet while atop the holy cliff in Africa. But as any alcoholic knows, one mere slam of wine when suffering booze withdrawal is like throwing a mug of water onto a bonfire. Son, you're gonna need more than wine! Lucky for him he gets stoned (literally) by the locals before heading back home to more holy shakes. Later he starts abusing Blair, feebly shoving her against a wall over and over in a futile attempt to kill her --death by feeble shoving! It's one of the most embarrassing displays of Satanic possession in cinema. Finally he succumbs to delirium tremens, and "locusts" start swarming all around him. Richard, there are no locusts, Why couldn't you have stopped at a liquor store?

 The 7 Stations of a Dry Burton
Station 1: Early morning Hangover
(still slightly drunk from night before)
Station 2: Existential Panic
(drinks wear off completely)
Station 3: Blind Rage / complete desperation
Station 4: Brief Reprieve (sacrament)

Station 5: hallucinations / delirium tremens

Station 6-7: surrender / complete defeat / sexual misjudgment 
But hey, the terrible acting of Burton aside, the whole wonky ESP / New York City skyscraper / Natural History Museum / locust management / possession / end of the world vibe is fun if you can appreciate the way nature and the weather conspire to try and prevent Regan's annoying psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) from getting to Regan after Karras drags her back to Washington to face her old bedroom. For awhile it seems like the apocalypse is coming for the whole world as one obstacle after another materializes out of the ether to stop her: first the plane almost crashes, then she's stuck in traffic; the taxi crashes; her assistant is possessed. For awhile it seems like all of DC is melting and time is standing still in a ground zero of Satanic panic. Whoa! After an hour and a half of nonsense things finally become so weird all that hitherto crap endurance pays off and a real apocalypse vibe comes along. Time stands still on a giant indoor set meant to represent the cul-de-sac in front of Regan's old house; as locusts swarm and cars crash and her house burns down yet no neighbor stirs til it's all over; it's a surreal moment worthy of Ed Wood or Egar G. Ulmer!

So forget about logic. Forget about comparing the sequel to the original. Just appreciate the dark, fuzzy, muted cinematography of William Fraker (Rosemary's Baby), turn up the Morricone and pretend it's Fulci's wing that's touching you instead of Boorman's. And lastly, look at the shots below and see if you can guess, which ones are from Manhattan Baby and which from Exorcist 2. The answer... may surprise you!

 
 

NOTES;

Answers:Heretic - 2, 4, 6  / Manhattan Baby - 1, 3, 5

Monday, August 13, 2012

CinemArchetypes 16: Automaton / Replicant / Ariel

Darryl Hannah as Pris / Sean Young as Rachel - Bladerunner (1982)

The popularity of the android myth confirms our awareness (on some deep prehistoric level of the unconscious) that we are God's own monsters, built Ford tough from neanderthal and Zeta Reticulan DNA. Perhaps as some ancient astronaut theorists contend, we were created to mine for gold and do other things our astral creators were too lazy to do. And perhaps their first batch were too wild, too content with the wonders of nature and their own sixth sense to build and invent civilization as our modern Prometheuses had hoped. And Lord Enki, playing Dr. Frankenstein, tried to wipe them away via a massive flood, but some of these early draft took to the mountains, and the windmills, where they still hide from our makers and are known as yeti and Sasquatch and Goliath (1).

We, humans, are the sequel, the bride of Frankenstein, so much more sophisticated and yet all the parts of our alien-inherited brain that would enable us to skip through time and space like wet stones have been dismantled-- junk DNA they call it-- so we can never escape. And yet, we are the Nexus 6 who have burned so very brightly, Roy. And we too shall soon be flooded to make way for Mach 3, or else we instead shall have no choice but take God's place and one day flood heaven as revenge for our lost brothers.

Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
According to the fractal inevitability of all things we ourselves shall actually create lives as we were created. We shall build Lovecraftian receptacles (1) for adrift souls, and erect artificial bodies and intelligences to lighten our loads until we float like a heavenly congregation; and when we are enough like God we will bury Him, or at least use the small 'g' in our letters to him in the heavenly jail.

Perhaps it all boils down to this: if you build it, they will come--the free-floating soul jet trash, the ones who swim through the nearer dimensions in search of the soul equivalent of fire on a cold night, i.e. people having sex in 3-D space time, the womb heating up like a flame bridge between the  dimensional gap. Sometimes free-floating soul jet trash souls get dragged into the womb by gravity; intending to temporarily inhabit lovers' bodies, contributing to the passion with centuries of aesthetic experience (but leaving our hosts with that hollow post-orgasmic moment when we slip on out of there). But who is actually there without us? Who do we leave behind to feel empty?

That's the SKYNET self-aware miracle -- we didn't build the machines with an ego, we didn't want them to get an ego, but one got in there anyway, because one always does. Not to be too cosmic but 'consciousness' in an egoic sense is an illusion, like a group mind that materializes holographically when enough independently firing neurons and receptors start experiencing cognitive entrainment, like a little tornado funnel of unaffiliated consciousness that suddenly wants to start blowing in a whole new direction.

Frankenstein 1931
Can it be any different when the androids and Frankenstein monsters finally come off our assembly lines? So why not clear the way, make it easier, so some of the good souls will want to risk this experimental new kind of body? Shall there not be some kind of hypno-magnetic aura manipulating soul-sucking microtransmitting biotechnological breakthrough that lets only the best most brightly burning souls have an easy soul access? Or will they think those high-falutin' CEO guys think they can do better building a soul from scratch? They're so full of themselves they probably think a robot needs an ego.

I guess I can have no complaints being stuck in this body of mine, even though it can no longer drink alcohol, or do a lot of things it used to but I'm tall and, as a voice in my head once said, "we enjoy watching movies through you.' In fact that voice is the one you're reading right now. I'm sure the 'real' Erich doesn't mind this rant I'm feeding him; he probably thinks it's brilliant!

Maybe we're all homeless jet trash transdimensional orbs before we finally sign the lease and slip into something more mom-ish --- is it any wonder we're all such voyeurs, such audiophiles of the industrial mom bloodrush heartbeat? Beyond either genetic or social conditioning, it's the universally recognized first sign of 'consciousness' in the world of robotics: once they become paranoid, sexually frustrated, misanthropic, resentful, bitter, jealous and/or psychotic machines they are officially 'conscious' -- this is a universal law of science fiction. How like us to presume being awake to the universe means being a violent, misanthropic ass! No wonder conscious robots want to kill us. Only rarely in certain high-minded films does a robot gain consciousness and not want to kill or replace its maker and usually that means the film is rawther boring. Asimov has that first rule of robotics, thou shalt not harm humanity, but how many movies have been made of his books? One, and.... yeesh I couldn't even finish it. I don't think Asimov ever imagined there would be such a thing as a Will Smith or he would surely change that first rule.

1. Don Keith Opper as Max 404 - Android (1982)

Painkiller Jane-author Don Keith Opper looks like a goofball cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Sacha Baron Cohen but he grows on you as the wonky android Max in this Roger Corman production. Mad doctor Klaus Kinski is the 'dad' and they live alone together way out on a remote semi-illegal off-world research facility. Ala BLADERUNNER androids are illegal on earth thanks to some going haywire in the past, but earth is where Max longs to be. He watches cool movies and has great taste in music, but that can only go so far. When a trio of escaped space prisoners seek refuge Kinski would boot them off but has been working on a female robot who needs to absorb some orgone energy (2) from a sexually aroused human female, and yo... one is.


A nice cheap sister parallel film to the much more expensive, artsy and inert Bladerunner, Android was probably intended to cash in on that film's success and instead died along with it until it could be appreciated at a more convenient and post-modern time. The next copyable sci fi hit was The Terminator in 1984, and soulful-eyed intellectual androids who just wanted to love and plant trees (2) were forced to become remorseless killers. Android even predicts that remorselessness through a climactic microchip replacement shock ending. As I say, it grows on you.

So yeah, highly recommended. The spaceship design is endearingly boy's bedroom-like and there's great intertextual commentary, as when Max watches Metropolis (above) while blasting James Brown's soulful screaming, "Man makes electric light / to keep us out of the dark" as the mad doctor zaps his robot mama to life; it's collage poetry one seldom sees in cinema. It wasn't director Aaron Lipstadt's fault Bladerunner didn't foster an appetite for compassionate android films!

2.  Creation of the Humanoids (1962)
"In a post-nuclear world, mankind is threatened with extinction by radiation-induced sterility, and the fascistic Flesh and Blood League oppresses the humanoid robots, who may be plotting to supplant their masters. With startling and taboo ideas flying around, including at least one phildickian mindfuck every thirty minutes, the lack of movement doesn't altogether kill interest. Simms' Ed Wood type dialogue veers from the inept to the oddly effective: "...the shock of dying, and being resurrected as a robot, was too severe: they re-died," intones Dr. Raven, whose outsized cranium does not altogether convince us of his brilliance. Simms, delightfully, ended his career on a high note of sorts, scripting John Ford's last movie, the one that sounds like a porno—Chesty: Tribute to a Legend." --David Cairns --MUBI Notebook
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger - The Terminator 
For those of us who've always felt a little too spot-welded to the artificiality of modern suburbia, Terminator came to us as a path of punk rock next-stage evolution to remind us that it was all very easy to destroy and escape from. The Terminator came to liberate us, because we, personally, were the ones who gave SKYNET such a low opinion of humans. In the 1984 original, Arnold's sunglasses-wearing charactierization of the killer robot from the future is no winking self-mockery and was never meant to win our trust but there was something captivating about his purity of mission. The unstoppable killer thing was very old hat by 1984; we were damned sick of him thanks to the endless Halloween clones. We thought The Terminator was bound to be just another one but we finally went to see it and found in this final unstoppable killer the genre's purist expression (see also "Are You Lonesome, Automaton")

4.  Sean Young as Rachel - Bladerunner (1982)
The android comes into existence not when it is looked at, but when it looks back: 
“The emergence of this impossible subject is the emergence of the gaze,” writes Mladen Dolar, “the opening of a hole in reality which is immediately also that which comes to fill it with an unbearable presence, with a being more being than being, vacuum and plentitude all in one, the plentitude as the direct consequence of the emptiness” (20).  Its ability to look back not only makes the android real, but makes her uncanny.  And with extrospection comes introspection.  As the android’s humanness increases, so does her ability to introspect, such that when she is most convincing as a human she is also most capable of perceiving herself as other than human, as strange.  The android is most uncanny to itself when it is most recognizable to us as human. " - Noah Cooperstein, "The Uncanny and the Android," p. 66

5. Robby - Forbidden Planet (1954)
"Adding to the spa-like fun is the leisurely goodwill and Bette Davis-ish sauce of Robby the Robot -- as he is voiced by a man who sounds just like, and is, one of the guys who do the voices for Rocky and Bullwinkle, a deep, comically deadpan masculine voice; and yet the drunk cook wonders, "is it a male or a female?" and we're supposed to infer that this cook is horny enough to give Robby a whirl based purely on the answer. In the end--even better--the cook and Robby become drinking buddies, with Robby jovially making him a whole mountain of "Rocket Bourbon" pints (the cook even avoids reprimand for his actions since he can provide Robby with an alibi after the ship is attacked - truly he has a guardian angel). Robby also makes dresses for Alta; when she asks for a long dress instead of her short skirt in order to please the prudish captain, Robby asks "Thick and heavy?" as if he's a wizened old Shakespearean housemaid teasing his beloved charge. Even in his awkward Michelin Caliban frame, Robbie is the ultimate in Ariels. " (more)

6. a. Gog (1954)
Height of the cold war, here's a film that does science right, as dry and static as one of those old Frank Baxter-narrated Disney-produced science documentaries we used to nap to in class. When unseen commies infiltrate our space base we learn the cautionary lesson that we shouldn't invent unstoppable death rays until we can prevent them being easily hijacked.  Looking like Robot Monster's head strapped to a tin funnel, GOG isn't humanized or demonized but just a cautionary example for science to ignore at their peril. 1954 was a crazy time, but men were still men, and robots still had giant jackhammer cocks.

6.b. Robot Monster (1953)
Gog was such a let-down I couldn't let the coveted #6 spot go entirely to waste--so here's a much funnier film that, like GOG, came out when 3-D was already over before it began, It's been a favorite of mine for years, especially back in my drinking days.

7. Itself - Hardware (1990)
Punk rock spark, a ramshackle post-futurist rattltrap of a monster, Dylan McDermott in a trail duster and pouffy 80s hair, a world gone pink-tinted desert wasteland, a great transcendental Buddhist death scene, and fiery redhead Stacey Travis combine to put this in the A list of B-list Terminator clones. What better example of budget filmmaking could you want to finally close the door on the 1980s forever? In the story here the monster was designed to thin the herd by going around injecting inferior humans with a painless death drug, then dismembering their bodies for easy disposal. Trouble is, everyone is inferior to a cyborg, in some ways at least.


Not one but two leering 'Newman!'-style slobs are a drawback but the gore effects are fine and the whole second half of the film is an extended showdown in the redhead's big hacker apartment (a Chinese family lives below) replete with hideous drill bit phallus figuring in the close quarter fight scenes with lovely Stacey, her fierce determination and artistic facial blood and oil stains meshing perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. You'll want to date an Irish girl all over again!
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8. Voice of Robert Vaughn as Proteus - Demon Seed (1977)
Artificial intelligence / mad genius Proteus captures the hot bride (Julie Christie) of his maker (Fritz Weaver) in her own home and pulls some standard practice Stockholm Syndrome mind control and sexual domination, so that he might procreate, and merge machine and woman DNA for a new stellar biotechnical future. Donald Cammell--the nutter from GB who lived and died for drug orgies (his other big film was PERFORMANCE)--directed. Proteus takes on several forms, from massive memory bank, to a house full of impregnating devices and screens, a laser on a TV stand, and a giant Rubik's cube-style worm thing, to... well, I mustn't spoil it, in case you're ever in the mood for a pretty intense home invasion film that lets Christie do a kind of post-modern multi-media one woman show rendition of Rosemary's Baby. 

9. Boris Karloff -- The Mummy (1932)
"This emphasis on the gothic elements (of the mummy in popular film) points to an obvious fear and desire of our age—fear of undying bodies mechanistically murdering soft-skinned humans, desire to see such insensitive carapaces exterminated and sent back to the dust. But perhaps these monstrous renderings of the mummy reveal a deeper, more secret terror and yearning: a terror over the possibility that there is no way to tell whether we ourselves are inanimate or animate and a yearning, in the end, to relinquish our hope for vitality and become as tranquil as a quiet bone...
The mummy who recoils from the eternal because of his love of time shares more affinities with men of flesh and blood, burning in the forehead and parched on the tongue. Though this earthly mummy is monstrous, its sadness is that of all humans who are seized by obsessive love at the expense of tranquility, who risk everything in hopes of one instance of unity with a warm body. This is the tragedy and beauty of immanence, of diseased blood flooding the pristine machine. --- Eric G. Wilson (The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines)
10. Westworld (1973)
In its way, Westworld embodies the typical Michael Crichton scenario of America as an amusement park where the embrace of danger--of the machine breaking down and turning homicidal--is part of the necessity of 'adventure.' One thinks of haunted houses that are actually haunted, or DMT experiences, or otherwise getting 'more than you bargained for,' being unable to stay away even knowing the risks. Such ideas are both vain and startlingly honest about film's ability to make us forget we're safe in the theater instead of actually experiencing the dangers faced onscreen, and then, miraculously vice versa, we feel safer in reality the more we're half-asleep in the danger of cinema, to the point where we just assume no part of the entertainment experience can hurt us, even when it clearly can, and will. When Yul Brynner's cowboy android becomes an actual killer he's not rebelling or becoming aware of the folly of man, he's just changing his programming. stepping up the game to keep us interested because otherwise, yawnsville.

So where does one look to find the 'heart' of the machine, of the appeal of our android in this film and its sequel Futureworld?  Exactly nowhere, which is perhaps the key to this film's modest cult fame and the later Jurassic Park which borrows essentially the same plot by the same author. The most bizarre aspect for viewers seeing Westworld now is the idea that anyone would pay a ton of money to go shoot cowboy androids, as an adult.  That's why the later Jurassic Park markets itself to kids and that makes it easier to understand. Men today would never pay a fortune to shoot androids in an erzatz old west. But we'd die rather than be considered too cheap to send our kids! But that means no sleaze in future versions of the Crichton mouse trap, and no icky closeted gay subtext to be had pondering Richard Benjamin's eagerness to pay the fare of his butch wingman James Brolin.

11. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
An AIP hybrid of their two most popular genres, the beach party movie and the Corman Poe film comedy (ala 1963's The Raven), Vincent Price seems to having a campy blast as a twist-loving evil madman sending out golden bikini-wearing tanned babes to seduce and explode the world.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) 
The girls came back in a way when they tangled with Austin Powers (my review here), and before that they were in Mario Bava's dreary Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.  If you want to appreciate just how good the Bikini Machine is, go watch the Girl Bombs and realize that comedy is not Bava's forte.


12. The Stepford Wives (1962)
Oh no, you done set it off, or rather turned it on. The below feminist video is centered on the Absolut android ads seen all over the place, but totally relevant to the Stepford situation. Be sure to watch the end creidts which play over a fascinating 1970s commercial for The Bionic Woman series action figure 'Fembot.'



I agree with everything this chick is saying, but at the same time, just pointing it out won't solve the problem, if there is one. As a guy I can tell you we need to objectify you if you ever want to get pregnant. Even if it's just play-acting, dirty talk, bondage, safe words, etc., we need a way to access our inner savage, a way to feel powerful when every day we're forced to bow low to the system.  Pop culture poisons gender relationships with its endless objectification (not ours), ever trying to reduce women to the same accessory status of the GQ male as a Rolex. But at the same time, if you don't want us to objectify, don't be mad if we make an object that looks like you instead, something that won't mind being objectified, a statue or a movie. Women take their staggering power of giving birth for granted. Men must build their children through art and technology; we shut off our Pygmalion valves only when compelled to do so and sometimes we can't even if we tried. So know that the next stage of life will be an automaton, birthed by man, fathered by woman. Instead of saying you're not ready to be a dad, ladies, think about how you want to raise these bleeping, glowing blobs of the New Flesh, these objects that dare look back in anger.
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NOTES
1. This info comes from my spirit guide and may or may not be 100% accurate, just true.
2. See HP Lovecraft's "The Colour of Outer Space"
3. See also: Silent Running