Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bechdel and Bikinis - Best of the SyFy/Asylum Shark Movies (pt. 1)

They're on Syfy Channel all this week! And they have plenty of interesting female characters. Giant monsters and strong, sexy broads, why do they go together so fiercely? Roger Corman set the trend back in the 50s, fusing capable and cool female characters and engaging tropical scenery (where film crews were non-union and the dollar went far). And hey- all week Syfy is unleashing a ton of his offshoot label Asylum's shark movies in advance of their new "last" Sharknado film (This Sunday!). They also have some other new ones like DEEP BLUE SEA 2, which I'll be covering in the next installment.

Sure, this feminism doesn't happen all the time (especially not with certain strip club loyalists directing who shall be nameless) but, well, if you have it on in the background while taking an after work nap, who knows... some great little oases of cool and Bechdel brilliance might surprise you yet, or at the very least, keep your chair gently rocking in the ocean as you doze off (as always, put some cocoanut suntan oil on your nose to trick your sense of smell that you're at the beach). 

For looks at the previous Sharknado Movies go here:

(2017) Music by Heather Schmidt

Written and directed by Mark Atkin, it's one of two films on SyFy that imagine the inevitable WATERWORLD future after global warming had put our whole planet underwater; the few humans hold on via floating villages and sharks getting very good at leaping up through the air and biting of people's heads as they stand on the shaky floating platforms. Unfortunately, other than these delights, the EMPIRE depicted here isn't very nice, as it's run brutally by a ruthless thug played by John Savage who keeps demanding huger tributes of.... I'm guessing fish oil? From the villagers, who keep clamoring for more fresh water.

The pussy attitude of the villagers reminds me of the very clear difference between a well-armed populace like America's red states vs. the average Kramer-esque idealized 'small town' mentality. Wild roaming bandits would have a devil of a time in certain regions of the Southwest for example but could really raise the ruckus if the cops were gone from Connecticut, for example. Anyway, we get it - these guys who work for Saxon are bad - you don't have to rub it in with tired scenes culled from other movies depicting abuses of power--the flogging 'round the wheel of woe, the demanding twice the usual tribute in half the time, etc.--it's too much like our 9-5 weekday job man. Shark movies should be like vacations, where--by the end--we're fine with staying home. But EMPIRE isn't like a vacation, more like being dragged to one too many sadistic gladiator movies by a man who you're beginning to suspect isn't really your uncle.

Eventually a boatload of capable good guys show up --they're a nice mix of age, gender and race with weathered tans that look like they actually do live on the water and things perk up, but their attack on Savage's compound fails, and soon they're all being fed to the sharks again. There's an innocent girl (Ashley De Lange) named Willow with a mysterious stone who can control the sharks so we get a lot of the old 'make the sharks kill this woman or I'll destroy your village! You have ten seconds!" suspense generator (known in screenwriter circles as 'lazy hack trick #4, right after the "Don't you die on me!" mouth-to-mouth bit) As a concept it's not well thought out (you mean she can make hungry sharks trapped in a pool attack terrified unwashed humans with her mind!), but suspense grinds on with these Savage-Willow countdowns anyway, thanks to Saxon's chops. Willow stares blankly at the water going "I can't" over and over and Saxon--right in her face--goes "you must! you must!" and somehow almost makes it work. Of course inevitably one's attention turns to one's drink or the newspaper, if those still exist in your satellite world, hopefully before lazy hack trick #1 occurs (the sudden cavalry rescue that saves the innocent girl having to get blood on her hands).

Pros: the pirate ship manned by the well-named Mason Scrimm (Jonathan Pienar) is coolly outfitted with human bone railings, and Saxon's compound has a nifty catapult - why didn't the villagers think of one of those? Another perk: some nice blonde hair- good to know there's still peroxide in the future. The scenery--clearly the oceans around South Africa---is de-lovely, despite the dour trappings..

(2016) Starring Lindsay Sullivan
***1/2 / Bechdel - A+

Shot the year previous to EMPIRE, it nonetheless works as the happy ever after sequel to that film's dour patriarchal outlaw grimness (and Mark Atkins wrote and directed both). Here the Bechdel test in full effect (with three doctors played by women!) it's a huge progress as this advanced functioning society is totally matriarchal and operating without the need for money or barter for goods and services. So while you can imagine either one coming first, this one was screened after EMPIRE last weekend, so I saw it as the Hillary future - and so might you!

In the pic above--center-- is Lindsay Sullivan as the no-nonsense leader, Dr. Roy Shaw (!); over the course of an almost real time afternoon she coordinates a) the launch window for both a HARP blast down into the magma under the shark zone, and b) the rocket that will launch co2 scrubbers into the upper atmosphere and refreeze the caps. Christa Vissar stars as Dr. Caroline Munroe (!) who a) works on launching the HARP device and then fucking up the ampullae of Lorenzini of the lead alpha shark -- all of it coordinated via her boat's CB radio. There's lots of white knuckle suspense too as her colleague Dr. Shayne Nichols (Stephanie Baran) parasails a few leagues ahead of the badass alpha sharks to move a target dingy for the HARP (a very well done scene, with her riding of the wind to leap as sharks jump up at her superbly done; and then when the boat sails right into an oncoming tidal wave, hoping to roll over it before it reaches megalithic heights.)

Another female highlight comes earlier: Angie Teodoro Dick as the wild neopagan shamaness with the spear (top image) leader of the rogue New Orleans voodoo style outpost who deals with the advancing shark issue by a kind of savage Stomp performance on the floating docks as they draw the sharks in to stab them with their mighty lances. Their growling and chanting and thumping goes on about three minutes too long, but the initial bad vibe created by their eventual senseless shark slaughter is interesting in context, as is the dimly lesbian look she shares with the incredulous Shaw.

All in all it's a noted step up from most Asylum productions, with some craft, focus, and money clearly invested - somebody really put it in the mix and tried to one of these films look good. It understands the being serious doesn't mean not being witty - and above all, the sunny and clear water vibe really works and the feminist stance is invigorating without being didactic. After all, if both sides of the divide can't cheer at the sight of a badass lady jumpstarting a Co2 scrubber rocket by jabbing two insulated leads into the electro-magnetic ampullae of a hyper alpha mutant shark, then we deserve extinction.

(2017) co-writer Marcy Holland 

An unscrupulous big game hunting property owner tries to clear out his hick trailer park (they're all squatters) by flooding it from the nearby river. In comes a shark... not just any shark either. As the crafty lead Rob (Thomas Ian Nicholas) notes "this shark has issues... electrical ones." The landlord's a bitch of a monster "you need someone killed.... do it your damned self." Rob and his foxy girlfriend Jolene (Lulu Jovovich) and together they work to rally the scrappy residents.

Pros: We meet the residents in a great tracking shot running all through the camp/park, which is almost more like the elaborate junk art paradise of Street Trash without all the bodily discomforts (more of a kind of utopian togetherness). Some good dopey humor and strong female characters: they may be slightly trashy but they're smart and courageous. Though she has only a minor role, Tara Reid is a joy as a trash collecting trader who barely notices the trailer park's been flooded "One man's tragedy is another man's treasure," she notes before trying to sell the local scamp his watch back. When asked if she's seen his girl she notes "I aint seen a soul since thing's got biblical." Her accent sounds kind of like TANK GIRL's Lori Petty. Her laugh's fake as hell but she's clearly having fun in her new role as the SyFy channel's go-to shark celeb, though I still place my heart with Cassie Scerbo in SHARKNADO, even though the site of Reid throwing pink flamingos at the passing shark then charing it with a chainsaw is pretty pleasant.

For the male comic relief there's lanky AMC star Clint James as Rufus the Cowboy. He just about steals the show - his climactic slow-motion ride on his horse (named Dookie) right into the mouth of the shark is a big highlight, as are his surviving cries for how the shark ate his Dookie... like the ginchy score he plays it just straight enough it's actually funny rather than tiresome. His triumphant shark-riding / water-skiing is pretty good ("John Wayne never did this!" He's letter perfect. So good he almost makes me want to watch Fear the Walking Dead. There's also Hollywood McFinley as Cleon, evincing a kind of Tracy Morgan trying to swallow Dolemite kind of musty oomph. They all react differently to their shit paradise being flooded, but more or less they've seen worse, and from their rooftops and makeshift junk heaps and and boats they do battle with the landlord's thugs who zip around the flooded park on jet skis! And as the thug number one -- David Callaway is like a combination Julian in TRAILER PARK BOYS and - Jason Momoa. No one asked for that, but we're glad to have it and can't wait to see it receive electro-shark therapy (ah just made that up). I also like that the water is sufficiently gross on the surface that a shark can easily hide in the detritus, and that for the most part the residents are too cool to get all icked out over it. They're fighting for their damned lives. It looks, I mean, like water does when it floods a rural region - the surface is black or muddy and all sorts of shit be floating. It's kinda unusual -the average character in a horror movie gets all grossed out having to paddle around in yucky black water with a giant electric shark in it, but our park denizens just take it in stride.

What I also like about this one is that keeps it simple -one shark - one day in the life - real time practically as events unfold; and the score is just right for the situation, playing things up just slightly awry, deadpan straight but in on the joke (big orchestral swells when one good old boy finds another alive), and if the sight of the bad guys zipping around the trees and trailers on their camouflage netting-covered jet-skis, faces hidden in Xtreme Sportz helmets and masks, hunting the most dangerous game, doesn't make you want to drink Mountain Dew in slow motion while draped in an American flag, then the blue state eco-terrorists win.

Cons: The sight of full beer kegs getting drained (not drunk, just drained into the water) for use as flotation devices  -- what a tragic waste.

But hey, "This is for my big brown Dookie," says Rufus.
And you believe him.

Allisyn Ashley Arm as Molly 
you won't find it down there, Columbus
(2016) - Directed by Misty Talley

Helmed a woman writer/director who fills the larder with interesting characters - including a cool family helmed by a fun grandma, and book nerd Daria type sister named Molly (Allisyn Ashley Arm) who wont put her book down (at least it's not an iPhone) to appreciate the fine river scenery. With her hipster layering and hipster hair and folk bling she reminds me of about four different girls I knew in the 90s and 00s and maybe you know them, too. There's an 'all in a day' real time kind of vibe as we follow the river down to the docks where the brother and his newfound girl run into the doofus boyfriend as well as relatively cool parents (the mom with her weathered look). This being the Ozarks, there's a salty survivalist who's ready for the shark incursion with a giant spear gun mounted in the back of his pick-up, and assorted firearms. By the end of the river-long chase, Molly will be an arms proficient badass.

: there's a cool/hot MILF at the river party I wish to have seen more of. I think someone saves her little baby. Tons of varied female characters to go with the usual bimbo snacks (this beach party seems to be largely girls, which is totally cool with me). The score has some of those classic Jerry Goldsmith Alien woodwind quarter notes. Keep 'em comin'!

Cons: her boyfriend who follows her down there on vacation, is a tool. But hey, he dies.

(2017) Dir Misty Talley

All right, Misty! She's on a role, and after the sublime energy, deft fusion of hipster girl and folksy eccentrics (neither one cliche'd) and real-time, downriver vibery of OZARK, this here is a perfect follow-ip. This one, like OZARK is not really a high Bechdel scorer but that's okay because a capable and interesting 3-D woman is the lead (Cassie Steele), who's neither objectified nor belittled and though there's few other girls around, and she's aided by an array of dudes -- including a salt old time or two that allows for both satire and celebration of the down home spirit (Talley's female characters can be hipsters without undue eye-rolling at the red statery around them) and a rather idiotic hipster dude comic relief.

The plot for this one centers around an annual river fishing contest that's the big event of the season for some, like a redneck caricature of the fishing nut who cheats by planting a big cooler with a pre-caught monster catfish in it deep in the marshes; and various boats full of hopeful fishermen, like the sad-eyed bearded hardware store owner and his daughter, a science major home from college who--to his chagrin--wants to take over the hardware store rather than become some fancy doctor. There's lot of attractive beards floating around, and some good gags.

Cons: The blood spattering is pretty weak, looking more like a squirt from a raspberry Nestle bottle than actual spray; sharks are poorly animated, even more so than usual; the vain actor of the Shark Bite movie franchise Jeremy London (as himself) has to constantly lets us know he's only looking out for himself which seems a little dodgy for a guy doing local shit like this and his agent, publicist, stylist, and PA aren't even there to think he's important so the townsfolk might be spared. It could have been a good character if a little less baby-faced and more tough, like Chuck Norris or someone super tough, but he comes off like more of a comic foil (though he's proven he can carry playing the badass specialist-type, as he did Talley's directorial deubut Zombie Shark).

When I'm nitpicking like this it lets you know it's pretty good, as the comb has to be finer-toothed to catch snags, so to speak. Like, in this case one must ask not just why the spastic idiot comic relief fanboy would insist on throwing their last bomb, but even so, why Cassie Steele as the level-headed daughter would let him, passeth understanding. Naturally he screws up and shrugs it off and the world almost ends, and Steele plays things way too intense for us to merely shrug off apocalypse -- but anyway, it also seems way too easy (and poorly edited) that they bagged all dem sharks in one fell swoop of a net in the first place (and the protruding fins look super fake).

Cool moments: A redneck who shrugs off being swallowed down to the ankles by a shark, after he's hit walking across the road by the local cop and run over (which gets the shark off him); the macho redneck just spits out some teeth and waves them on - now that's why the Red States must never be maligned - badass shit like that! Another cool moment comes when London finally mans up, another when a drunk redneck is sizing up a shark with a harpoon gun in a small motor boat while the deputy is trying to wave him in and the shark knocks the boat so the drunk redneck misfires and nails the deputy square in the chest. Hey, nobody's perfekt. My country right or wronged!

(2015) Dir. Misty Talley

The first of the Misty-stravaganzas, women compose a good portion of the cast. Sharktopus vs. Pteratcuda's own Katie Savoy returns... and is promptly devoured.

Ross Britz is Jenner, the dopey softboy, appetizer snack love interest. Cassie Steele is the lead sister, Amber. Steele also takes the lead in MISSISSIPPI SHARKS and a side role in OZARK, so would definitely move from here to become a recurring Misty Talley favorite, it would seem. She's a fine actress -- blah blah ---but almost too good for the part, she explodes it outwards, like a depth charge. Sloane Coe is her kid sister Sophie --who's not a kid anymore, Amber! Her parents love her more than Amber, because Amber was a rebel. Jason London is the tough CIA guy with the family he never sees. The shark that's a zombie keeps coming back from the dead, infects other sharks, and all those who get bit or roughed up become zombies too. Time is running out for the mature lady doctor working more or less alone at the ubiquitous 'thought-long-closed-down' experimental clinic.

Pros: A cool shot has two dudes standing too close to a hottie getting sunned and she thinks (and so do we) that she's being ogled - but it's a dead shark behind her. There's lots of well-acted backstory with the two sisters and over-protective parents -- we feel that dad's frustration he can't get a boat to go out to the island in the middle of the storm, but also the daughters' frustration their parents are so over-protective. There's a few great sudden attack moments.

Cons: The family drama is almost too well acted for its own good. There's a lame opening bar fight and one too many crunky dillweeds (and a -wad) fighting over tossed wings (which is broken up by the announcement of  free shots --these douche bags know what they're doing) at a kind of fusion of Coyote Ugly and some retro 50s cajun club setting-- it's not a promising start and I was kind of skeeved out by the whole thing, but soon they're at zombie island and things perk up. Casting-wise, the parents don't seem to have a resemblance to the sisters. It will depend on your mood whether the lack of any kind of sexual energy (aside from that cool shot I mention above there's almost no skin) is an ominous shade of things to come with more and more women directing.

Meta moment - another tight cut to a Pizza Hut pizza sliding onto the table as a severed flying shark head takes out the hottie in her one fatal moment of altruism. The whole storm thing is going on in the Syfy broadcast I'm watching right as a massive storm is going on outside with an amber alert flood warning lighting up my phone. 

(2017) - Written by Ashley O'Neill
** 1/2

There's a new singles health and fitness resort on a gorgeous Puerto Rican island - "Bodies by Reese: Singles Fitness Resort" - Reese (Eric Etarbi, lower left) with his hirsute tanned chest and blazing white open shirt, bossing around a crew of gorgeous young employees as they prepare to open, not realizing that the clear blue water is high in arsenic and a toxic chemical-spewing giant shark swims in it, and it spits toxins that turn people into crazy 28 Days Later -istyle homicidal maniacs (they talk though - and do some pretty good maniac babble). Soon the dwindling number of attractive college kids are all stranded and trying to send a boat out for help, dealing with the mounting zombie menace plus the shark issue is a lot to process, so they better think fast.

Pros: This one relies heavily on the gorgeous scenery and people - all of whom are - as per the needs of the health spa--young, gorgeous, toned or otherwise in peak physical health and fertility. The comedy tries not to overflow the banks of horror and 'MTV Singles' satire and the eco-awareness tragedy is all the more biting for being so downplayed. The place looks like paradise on earth, so the idea that the water is toxic and no fish survive only an arsenic-infused toxic shark, a situation well summed up by one of them: "All those years of polluting the ocean has finally come back to bite us, literally!" There's a pretty funny wipe-out off a four-wheeler along the shore, with a couple getting believably swept out in the crashing tide.

Big plus: Your mileage may vary but for me the pinnacle hottie in all these films is Kabby Borders (what a name!) as Eden (top in above row, lower left), who wears a fetching navy blue bikini with pink and aquamarine trim that matches her sandy blonde hair, sparkly blue eyes and dim trace of freckles and nary a trace of the busted weather-beaten look of so many broads in these films who can't seem to go gentle into their late thirties. All the girls here are young and hot but naturally so--they radiate health! Sie sind heimiche! -and even the boys are unobjectionable relative to... you know, its ilk. And best of all, if you're old and experienced, you have no wish to join them. Kale salad and sexual obsession  - you can keep it! I'll just loll in the surfy rhythms and keep myself preserved for furtive generations.

Pros: The director generously gives us long shots that catch Eden's whole gorgeous physique in that suit (as opposed to either leering or cropping or relying on tired Amicus-style close-ups.) I could watch her test the sea water for arsenic all the live long day. Though there's no conspicuous feminist strides, Angie O'Neill's script regularly surprises: one girl doesn't understand the word 'vapid' but it's not the one you'd think. The girls all talk mainly about getting laid but it's for Eden to get over her ex (who then shows up, unaware she's there--he's trying to get over her) and in the end she still pushes him away to take it slow! He agrees! The shocks keep coming! "Take a hike in the rainforest and take some samples of whatever..." One of the hotties is a bookworm but doesn't wear glasses, etc.  Eric Etabari is pretty hilarious as Reese, trying to play down the emergency as just bad vibes, especially after one of the girls gets rabid from the toxic sludge and tries to bite him. Until it gets wet, the hair on Eden's go-to chatty compadre, Audra (Christina Masterson) is long and lustrous, sparkling in the glittery sun. As she sits with Eden, their white teeth blazing and hair rolling and shining--as the surf rolls in --we may begin to finally, on some pleasant level, feel relaxed and attuned to a higher power. Then of course, shit hits the fan, but slowly, over real-time tracking shots from the infirmary down along the balcony to the beach, and the ocean, as staff worried walking conferences and guests hoping each other will be okay overlap. And then, of course, all hell breaks loose. Lots of gaping and struggling to get out of the water and slow motion moments of processing grief and overwhelmed staff freaking out.

Cons: The ugly ass shark itself is great, lunging and snapping like a muthuh - but the toxic sludge spew is ridiculously bad CGI. A real low - it's not even shaded (there's only one sort of flat food coloring green). The bickering between Eden and her ex gets old almost as quick as it would in real life -- as if O'Neill is exploring the relationship side of 'toxic' as well as the literal (shark) side.

 Meta-Bonus Round: When I first saw it, the commercial breaks were pretty well times, do there were some nice jump cuts the munching sharks to mouth-watering close-ups of Burger King double whoppers (I think it was Whoppers).

(2017) Starring Nikki Howard

The sole reasons to see this are the bangin' PR scenery and the presence of two babes in scientific research positions -- Nikki Howard's willowy raven-haired Dr. Angie Yost, and her oceanographic aquarium scientist chum Lindsay Snyder. Mainly, it's Howard who puts it over, by managing to do just enough acting to be believable without being tiresome. And of course, she looks very professional in a lab coat over red tank top, with shark tooth necklace and long raven hair. She's smart, and if a trifle judgmental ("Way to go, World!" she says sarcastically pulling plastic out of a shark's gut during a collegiate demo), yet accessible in her imperfection (she identifies Cerberus as having only two-heads.

Pros? Since there's five heads to our shark this time, there's lots of young people and/or tourists and/or fishermen in the beautiful blue waters of Puerto Rico all lining up in rows of five while looking out from the lip of the boat - which is very obliging. You don't want to get only four in one go, and leave one head sulky. Ah well, at least the film has the temerity to spend most of the film out in the clear gorgeous blue waters, with Howard looking especially smart.

Cons: Though the two main 'final dudes' never stop wearing their baseball backwards, like a pair of real douchebag tools, the bad guy aquarium owner is worse. He tries to sound tough as he does his song and dance about how it's okay to put his team in danger since if they don't capture a five-headed shark alive for the aquarium then everyone's losing their job. On and on his rants go, fishtailing out into apologies once the team starts getting eaten. His high little voice makes Bruce Dern sound like Orson Welles. I eventually had to FF to get past his scenes, figuring I'd check back in after he's eaten, but he keeps hanging around until almost the bitter end.

Ah well, at least the other boys (with the cap issue) don't otherwise irk, but slide conveniently in their slots (the weathered manly slightly salty and dissolute ex-boyfriend charter captain, the cute scruffy tech nerd) and let the girls work the emotional high wire, as nature intented. And if anyone's lucky enough to marry Dr. Angie, it's with the caveat they'll have to eat vegan. Our jealousy trails off to a dull splash.

Meanwhile, the only clear danger present might be carpal tunnel on the CGI programmer, but one suspects even he did not work too hard. Ah well, line 'em up!

A simple counting of the row of obliging meals ahead lets you know this is a still from 5-Headed Shark Attack. 
If these sequels keep mounting they're gonna need a wider boat.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Angels of Death Special Edition VI: FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Welcome to violence, wrapped up in the flesh of woman, a deep raspy voice grabs us right from the get-go with this terrifying forward, the soundwaves of his voice on the tape measured out for us in some macabre dance of manly depth. He mentions dancers in a go-go club and the music explodes. Three uninhibited dancers enflame male lust, while grooving out to wailing garage band grind on a tiny stage in darkened room. A crew of bloated middle-aged male faces crowd around in the audience, puffy with drink and desire, the kind of mugs not even a mother could love, frenzied with cigars and darkness, shouting: 'Go baby go! Go! Go!" The girls wail and rock in their bikini ensembles (no stripping), the music builds, the shouts intensify. Everything builds until it all explodes into sunshine with a maniacal laugh and the title credits come rolling up as the dance continues into a sunny race down the open American highway; the girls are out of that darkened cesspool, speeding forward into the wasteland (the open planes of the American Southwest - in this instance the areas in and around the Mojave Desert). Each woman is in her own little souped-up roadster, leap-frogging each other and blasting their way freer and freer. The theme by some garage outfit called the Bostweeds roars under them like a souped up engine: "Pussycat is living reckless / pussycat is riding high / if you think you can tame her / well, just you try!"

Already we're in love, we'd never dream of trying to tame any of them, or this film - all we can do is hang on. It's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! a 1965 drive-in aimed by Russ Meyer, the master of movies featuring big-breasted, sexually voracious, tough-talking women burning through men with uninhibited carnality, and, hitherto this film, 'nudie cuties' and southern-fried gothics (like Mudhoney, and Lorna) made in pursuit of the long green accorded trash hits like Poor White Trash that had been playing the tail end of drive-ins for decades, and, also in 1965, Motor Psycho (a kind of The Searchers, but with bikers instead of Apaches). Pussycat was something else altogether-- there was no precedent for it, no antecedent. Cinema had never seen women like the three wild go-go dancing, off-road dragging thrill-seeking maniacs, nor would it, sadly, ever again, a few random female characters aside).

The threesome are now the stuff of grindhouse legend: Varla (the terrifying Tura Satana), the tough butch sadistic leader, in the black Porsche, who shouts her lines in a haughty monotone; Rosie (Haji), her right hand underling/lover, who speaks in a low-key Chico Marx accent; and the wild card/joker, Billie (Lori Williams), the curvy fun-loving sexually carnivorous blonde who tags along with this due for the wild kicks they provide. (Hell, we would too).  Wild stuff happens wherever they go. And besides, if Billie's antics get her into trouble with--say--go-go patrons stalking her, she can rely on Varla to beat the shit out of them.

There is never any mention of they're being in any gang. They have no matching jackets or tattoos, not even weapons; Varla doesn't even bust out her knife until the climax (Rosa carries it for her, like a nurse.) There is no posing or growling or trying to act tough for these three girls - they're the real deal. We learn this pretty early on, when--and some might say he deserved it for hitting her when she was already letting him walk away--she breaks a young All American boy Tommy's (Ray Barlow) entitled little neck.  For thrilled first time viewers we're in brand new territory. We have no idea what's going to happen, all we know is, any man who crosses them better watch out.

Susan Bernard worries she might be hogging all the oxygen. 


The girls' destination is a Mohave flatland, replete with tire markers for boundaries, that car nuts like themselves use for racing and timing trials; truck tires are laid out as boundaries for a race track loop. It's the kind of place that is usually deserted for miles and miles in all directions and, well, if you've never been way out alone in the middle of a desert before, then you know how eerie and ominous it gets, how long you can go without seeing another living soul, and yet how far you can see in all directions. It feels dangerous; if a bunch of rapey bikers showed up, you'd have to rely on their kindness or your courage. It's an eerie feeling, how quickly the law and order of the country can be left far behind, and horrible crimes could occur on you and your friends right there in the open, for hours and hours, and no one would know - and even if you tried to escape, there's nowhere to hide, and even if you get in your car and drive away, they have miles and miles in which to catch up and run you off the road. We see this 'sudden lawlessness brought on by the assurance of distance in films by Peckinpah (Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West), George Miller (Mad Max, the Road Warrior), Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes), among others. There's a deeply troubled understanding that, even in a country with laws and police, if you go too far off road, into the wasteland, either to homestead or just to run some timing trials, you have to be ready to defend yourself, and you should never be dumb enough to let yourself be led to far away from your trailer or homestead leaving your children and/or hot wife unprotected so a bunch of guys on bikes (or horses) can just ride up and run riot while you're off chasing a decoy. And unless you're going to kill them yourself there's not a damned thing you can do about it all.

"you don't have to believe it --just act it."
Into this wasteland, LA's own Mojave, came the hot rods. Teenagers were souping up dad's hand-me down Studebakers and drag racing out there, taking advantage of there not being a cop for miles to drive like maniacs. It's a distinctly American, distinctly mid-60s, pre-summer of love / post-big studio system phenomenon, when southern California car culture was all the rage (ala American Graffiti) and drive-ins the perfect place to see violence, sex, and speed and submarine races while getting it on in the back seat. Don't forget too that the mid-60s marked the time when the bikini--long a staple of French beaches--finally gained acceptance in the States. It was new-ish, so just having the word 'bikini' in your title, could guarantee box office interest. This was coupling up with teenager mobility and customized hot rods, as seen in AIP pics from the same era, like Velvet Vampire with its flashy yellow dune buggy, or climactic car chase scenes in Dr. GoldfootBikini Beach, etc. It was also the dawn of the transistor radio, so not only would we now the voluptuous young bodies in all their splendor on the beaches, but they could bring their garage band radio stations and dance the frug or whatever and hula hoop until the sun went down. Old duffers like Buster Keaton scrambled for fishing-related excuses to get out there and discreetly ogle.

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) - Bonehead dates a Mermaid
But over away from the relative safety of AIP's beach movies and The Horror of Party Beach, was the adults-only tail end drive-in entree. A nice-looking All-American boy, a "safety-first Clyde"  and his groovy obedient chick come roaring up to where the girls are., 'the best measured strip of land around' for timing trials ("It felt fast.... real fast!" - what a tool). Were headed for trouble from the moment Tommy gets out and stretches a little too patriarchally before them, as if to say, I'm the only man here so naturally I'll be in charge starting now." His girlfriend Linda (Susan Bernard) comes out when Varla notes of his bomb "you could time that heap with an hourglass" ("did someone mention my figure," she says all cute. Then adds "shall I set up shop here, Tommy?" and already you can't wait to see him get roughed up). Soon squabbling and chicken runs will give way to something darker.

They race, he wipes out when Varla cuts a corner just to chicky run him out of control with a sadistic laugh. Humiliated, he comes running up after parking far away, like he's just been violated. Linda screams as if he's already dead.  Tommy's tiny enough the towering Satana could break him with her bare hands. So she does. It's still morning, presumably. Later, at the local gas station, they spot a a giant hulk of young man and his crippled father peeling away in a pick-up; the leering attendant mentions the pile of loot they're sitting on... Billie meanwhile is bowled clear away by the sex appeal of the hulk. They realize now where they'll be heading to unload the body and maybe even create a few more.

With each trip to the well, my cup to fill, I come away with no admiration for what may well be the Big Sleep of 60s drive-in exploitation - a favorite that makes me feel just a little cooler every time I watch it, no matter how many times that is. I know I'm not alone in cherishing this film, one my all-time favorite movies. I love it so much I almost hate to talk about it even here. Luminaries of the trash arts like John Waters (who first turned me onto it through his book Shock Value), and feminist film critics like B. Ruby Rich alike, recognize its genius and can convey it more cogently perhaps. I can only vouch from my dozens of viewings that, as Waters says, "it ages like fine wine." Even now, elements are coming out in that bouquet. From the sound mixing to the framing, the gutsy brawling saxophone of club jazz combo score -- always somewhere between a tough TV cop show and a strip club, and editing, everything is surprisingly professional and opened up -- there's no canned audio dubs; as in John Waters, there's nothing primitive in its execution. Sure they shout all their lines when outdoors, to make sure they're heard - but they never sound muffled and sloppy, like they would in, say, an Al Adamson movie, or all canned and overdubbed, like in a Doris Wishman (or combo, like HG Lewis) and -oh! oh! What delicious lines! Jackie Moran's gonzo script roars by like half beatnik version  of Ben Hecht and half punch-drunk George Axelrod. You can feel and hear the air between the actors and the cars, the voices, that blowsy wailing saxophone it's Hollywood studio level professional. The acting may be flat, mostly (only Haji and Stuart Lancaster seem born for this weird style of dialogue, almost like Samuel Jackson was born for Tarantino's), but the dialogue is hilarious so it works perfectly.

Haji as the right hand woman / lover of the tough gang deb leader Varla, is someone I never really paid much attention to her before, being too enthralled by the statuesque curves of Lori Williams, and the evil of Tura Satana. But then, Marx Brothers fans like myself don't really appreciate Chico Marx, either --he's not as anarchic as Harpo or as intellectual as Groucho -- but as he holds it all together, his presence makes them 'the brothers', the way Haji makes it a girl gang even with just three people. It's Haji's Rosie who defines what they are and aren't, who never seems too be hamming, but deadpan cool - and always in that weird accent. She sticks with Varla, but she's also very aware of the danger they're in, that this time she may have gone too far. She's not as freaked out as Billie, but she's also clearly got some kind of moral conscience. And she makes the best use of any line she's thrown. While Tura and Lori both shout their lines like they're yelling over a lawn mower. Haji purrs, low, almost halfway to herself, comments like "his car's okay.... only the color needs changing.. maybe yellow?" and my favorite line of all, when Linda offers them a soft drink. "Soft drink, she asks?" notes Rosie, incredulously, "we don't a-like nothing soft --Everything we touch is hard."

But while Rosie is to be fathomed for her middle child subtlety, Varla is one of the most amazing and badass characters in all of exploitation cinema, a force to be reckoned with. Tura Satana's a giant, beautiful in a weird almost alien way - half-Japanese yet towering, pale skin dark hair fierce eyes, flattish face, a sneer that seems to melt into the fourth dimension. We wouldn't see a smile that scary again until the alien smiles down a Harry Dean Stanton in the Nostromo docking bay. Yet Tura is never not all woman, even belting out hammy jujitsu moves or swinging her head around in a crazy kamikaze driving style - it's clear early on she'll go to any lengths to get her fierce kicks. We never learn why she's such a crazy bitch, but who cares? She doesn't seem to have got that way by suffering past male abuse, but just by being a true Woman, stripped of all phony decency.

Then there's Lori Williams' Rosie, who gets all the best lines and looks the sexiest in her white go-go buts and hip-hugging white shorts. Her lust after 'the Vegetable' the brain damaged body builder who the old man (Stuart Lancaster) uses like, as he puts it, "a piece of mutton", is truly hilarious ("I don't know what you're training for, but as far as I'm concerned, you're ready." What Williams lacks in subtlety she more than makes up for in giddy oomph. When she's getting drunk at lunch with Stuart Lancaster (as 'the Old Man') she sounds like she really is drinking (there ain't iced tea in that Cutty Sark bottle), noting it's "it's been known to be passin' out time." With Varla out back seducing Kirk to get the loot location and Varla jealously spying, and the Vegetable taking Stuart up to his room for a nap, it's time for Linda to make a dash for it, but this is still the desert, and walking anywhere on foot without a day-long head start, you just wont outrun a jeep, especially if driven by a pro like Varla.

For those who aren't familiar with it (and it can become hard to track down since the Meyer estate keeps the rights notoriously close to the vest) Pussycat is slightly easier to find than the rest of his films (aside from the studio-made Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) though they're sold on the Russ Meyer website, the DVDs aren't the best - they look like merely remastered from old tapes rather than source prints. So why someone like Arrow doesn't do a deal with them is a lingering mystery. I hear there's been a Blu-ray thing in the works for years now, but who knows why it's taking forever? (Apparently the original negatives are long lost and video masters are all that are left, which is too horrible to contemplate).

The film's been compared in more ways than one to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and indeed there's a kind of bent similarity but it's one with a feminist throttle all the way open, for the buzzing isn't Leatherface's chainsaw but Varla's wheels driving a car against 'the Vegetable' smashing him against the wall until he's a crinkled mess. They'll have to send him away "from a lot of things" and we imagine suddenly that Carmen Sternwood would be a great candidate for this gang, to take Billie's place, as would Claudia Jennings from Truck Stop Women (1974). Well, we can't have everything, unless we want to make a movie ourselves. I'm not trying to put any ideas into anyone's heads, but it seems to me a badass girl gang crashing a lot of different genres would be just the thing. A lot of folks have tried and they end up being the usual overwrought nonsense with one too many well-scrubbed thugs locking girls in trunks, strippers with sun-damaged silicone lugging bags of cash in and out of hotel lobbies, sunglassed douchebags smirking into rearview mirrors, abusive backstory, flashy meaningless over-editing, in other words missing the whole point. The only film of late I can see even coming close is the 2010 low budget Aussie pic, El Monstro Del Mar (which is kind of like the Faster Pussycats vs. the Sea Monster).


Faster is so good it's natural to want to explore more Meyer films. Alas, while the quality of the filmmaking is always superb, the films aren't well restored -- the negatives may have been lost over time, with Meyer's iconoclastic insistence on handling all the video recording and distribution leading to a current state of stasis as far as Blu-rays, restoration, etc. Even so, there's no film quite as perfect as Pussycat in the Meyer canon. Changes in distributor demand led Russ from black-and-white to color for the rest of his films. Off-road mayhem changes to bedroom farce, and his earlier backwoods lustful Erskine on the Half-shell insanity tempered down into historical epics (Blacksnake) and generally insane softcore farmer's daughter style rutting (Up!, Beneath the Valley of the UltraVixens)

These days I have a whole new appreciation for Haji's Rosie, The co-star of Motor Psycho, her gorgeous breasts ever hanging out of a torn blouse as she bounces around in Rocco's truck through the desert on their quest for vengeance. 
Even his vehicular homicide film from the same year (1965) wasn't in the same league as Faster - by keeping the bad guys men, it becomes a 'roughie,' part of a short rape/revenge trend in mid-60s exploitation. Now it's notable mainly for a chance to see Haji in a more prominent role, as an aid to bereaved vengeance seeking vet played by Alex Rocco (!) Motor Psycho chronicles a trio of rapey male bikers who happen across a lot of gorgeous ladies lolling around in revealing outfits, guarded only by their furious middle-aged husbands. After they gang has left enough destruction in their wake, Haji and veterinarian and Alex Rocco take revenge, but for my money it's too little too late. Plus, there's a very uncomfortable feeling afoot, with a deep encouraging of the Mulveyan male sadistic gaze as well as the Studlar masochistic spectator position, as our eyes all but molest these gorgeous women, and then must watch in horror as the bikers act on our eye's desires, almost like they're our own monster of the Id (from Forbidden Planet). Very Clockwork Orange in that respect - as all our libidinal leering comes back to haunt us. We'd never get that uncomfortable today, when Hollywood films sexual assaults in such a way as to leave us feeling personally violated, traumatized, but never uncomfortably complicit through our own ogling desires

we may not approve of their methods- Motor Psycho

From thenceforth the style changed. Drive-ins no longer wanted black-and-white, so- Meyer moved into color and relaxing censorship let him drift ever closer into hardcore. One film of his I do have, SuperVixens (1975) has scenes like the one with mail order bride Uschi Digard running around the farm naked but for feathers in her hair and waving ears of Indian corn outstretched as if auditioning for some X-rated margarine box cover, while Stuart Lancaster naked but for a chicken over his groin runs in an intersecting direction - breaking up a montage of them screwing in all sorts of farm locations, enough material if the shots were dragged out as long as they'd be in lesser hands, to make some shaggy farmer's wife story as Uschi doesn't get enough from Stu (I'd love to read his thoughts on all this - he's a fine, grounded actor whose gravitas imbues the second half of Faster Pussycat with such relief pitcher oomph, and who also appears in nearly every other Meyer film, as well as other sexploiters like Mantis in Lace --for a balding old dude with a cigarette voice, he gets around). Everywhere he goes 'Super'-sized glamazons throw themselves at him and he seldom wants to reciprocate, either trying to fight them off and arousing the ire of their kinky boyfriends (who like to watch, like John LaZar) or angering the farmer or hotelier into chasing thim with a shotgun. Violence explodes from the wild cartoon fury of nymphomaniacal Super Lorna (who takes an axe to her man's car in a jealous rage and then is later killed in the bathtub by Charles Napier as the investigating cop after she taunts him for not getting it up). This becomes the norm for Meyer, when death is just a joke that leaves a bad taste in the mouth, an extension of sexual frenzy wherein everyone loses- all the girls in Motor Psycho wind up dead or traumatized. And even in Meyer's big budget Beneath the Valley of the Dolls two women get a pistol shoved in their mouths for being lesbians. You can call that homophobic, or misogynist (I do), but more than that, it's misandric, viewing men as a bunch of easily bested slobs chasing cleavage over any cliff handy and resorting to violence like a temper tantrum.

Uschi Digard in SUPER VIXENS - the Mail order Milk Maid Fantasy cranked to cartoonish extremes
enough to make Jayne Mansfield blush; (but we see the problem with color film vs.
black and white as far as preservation - it's all muddy, especially without the negatives to strike a restored
print from for  a good DVD or Blu-ray
Our hero is very rude not to indulge the weird come-ons of Super Cherry while her boyfriend
(John Lazar) watches excitedly from the driver's seat.
It's violence but the wrong kind, not the badass liberated gangland karate of Varla, but a kind of extension of pent up sexual madness -- it's not 'constructive' as a machination for kicks as is the violence is in Faster Pussycat. We don't 'feel' the violence in Pussycat. We're not meant to share Linda's frustrated terror at the macabre luncheon ("she's a sick girl, pops"), or Tommy's  humiliation after the race around the track. We're meant to view this pair of clean-cut normies with a kind of savage's eye; their small world has been enlarged, their sense of middle class entitlement blown clear and loose, by this experience. We're not rooting for them and it's liberating. We wouldn't be in a similar position until Alberto Di Iglesia's Perdita Durango (Aka Dance with the Devil), a film a highly recommend


One of the unusual aspects too of  Faster -- there is no sex in it whatsoever, yet there's implied lesbian pair bonding and -- in the house of the three men, some implied rape/abductions done by the Vegetable with the Old Man as instigator/spectator (revenge for a past slight done - when he crippled himself rescuing a girl off the tracks, who didn't even stop to see if he was all right but just caught the next train). According to interview, Haji didn't even know she was playing a lesbian until the shoot was almost over, but that's okay- this is 1965, after all, that they don't wear it on their sleeve is quite realistic for its time. We wouldn't really think of it if not for Billie's pronouncement that 'I can turn myself on a dozen different ways while you only got one channel, and your channel is busy tuning in outside," adding "you really should be AM and FM... you one channel chicks are a drag." There's a moment where Varla tells Billie, "Rosie and I are going to take a walk..." and somehow we imagine there might have been a softcore lesbian moment if this was 1969 instead of 65, or if Meyer had time, and the girls were down. But who cares in the end? There's no time for such stillness.

It all moves too fast to find out just where and what goes on between them, there's no time for sex, even implied in this film -- the few times (straight) sex is tried it's interrupted either by either a train (which throws vegetable off his rhythm since his dad doesn't like them) or a scream from the escaped girl (which interrupts Varla and Kirk), and at the end, a rape the Vegetable is too upset to perform despite his lecherous old man's shouts. This lack of sex mark a key turning point for the Meye canon, as sex will become the obsession in all Meyer's films from this point forward. Feminism and amok 'super'-sizing will all be in service of sexual fulfillment - it being no idle job choice that gas stations with their big phallic pumps figure so prominently in the Meyer utopia of desert flats and homemade California hot rods. The cars will still zip by, but our heroes will be settled in cabins ant tract homes, at least until their horny broad burns the apartment down or he comes home to find her making it with the milkman, unless that sort of thing turns him on.

Still, the women of all Meyer's films are, mostly, still celebrated for being strong and aggressive, and the men, for the most part, are shown to be insecure idiots who talk a big game but when a woman comes for their zipper like a piranha, they freak out and make some excuse. Their macho shit talk is exposed as little boy bravado, the masculine house of cards comes caving in with a cold feminine laugh.

"You girls nudists, or just short of clothes?"
As for the rapey duo of Vegetable and old ma, we never really get the details of one ominous pronouncement that they have "all the land to hide those pretty ribbons in when we're done with 'em" but we wonder how the good brother, who doesn't seem to have any kind of a job except nursemaid to the pair of them, can stand back and let these kind of atrocities go on. It's fine that the script doesn't bother explaining that, it's too busy tossing out one great line after the other, and perfect to drink to as there's copious opportunities and justifications, such as when the old man grabs the Scotch bottle out of the grocery box Kirk is bringing in, "it's a little early for that, old man!" notes Kirk. "The train is late!" / "nothing's on schedule today!" When I watched this over and over in a drunken euphoric bender haze on a 6-hour tape with Mesa of the Lost Women, Cat People of the Moon, and Spider Baby. Can you imagine how perfect?
Linda realizes her 'rescuer' is taking
her back to where she just escaped from

 In the end it doesn't matter what the old man instigated or not SPOILER ALRT -- he will be dead before nightfall, his wheelchair overturned, his long greenbacks fluttering in the wind. Something else is gone forever, too. Movies will never feature this much crazy thrills packed into Hawksian 'enhanced' real time again. There'll never be a character as unhinged and gleefully butch mercenary as Varla, not in the Meyer canon, not anywhere.  This is the steep price of civilization. Nowadays producers would be too worried about arousing feminist / lesbian film scholar ire, actresses too worried about their image. When there are badass females, they're too prettified, too cartoonish or torture porn-ish, they 'got that way' because of child abuse or some other male thing.

But not Varla. When she snaps the neck of the All-American Safety First Clyde Tommy we're not meant to care. As Varla told him right before "you can still walk away, buster!" and he agreed. Hitting her from behind after he taps out is a real no-no. It's super shady, showing for all his good boy shorts-wearing yacht club squareness, he's no gentlemen - clearly considering a woman as hardly worth Queensberry rules, and needs to be put in her place before he leaves, like taking out the trash, or closing the front gate. Big mistake, Eight-ball!

Welcome to violence, the word and the deed, that narrator said back at the start (and is never heard again). But the stay is short, like a delicious lap dance to a short song, the film ends much too quickly, leaving us with the only two 'other' boring characters in the film: Linda and the 'good' brother (Paul Trinka), who buys lots of big hardcover books over mail order -"and they're ain't a picture in one of them " - a sure sign he's "growin' away from us, boy." But irregardless, the others are all dead now (or 'destroyed' in the biceps) and it's not even dark yet. The film is over so fast we need, want to keep the electric thrill of it going with another film. But what comes close, if, as I said above, the Meyer films tend to drift off into rape and bedroom farce rather than badass bitches tearing up the swinging' miles.

That's the saddest part of Faster, the realization there's almost nothing else like it, anywhere. And there should be. It's a damned conspiracy. Women are becoming more equal, but for my money that's missing the point. Equal to what? The point is of no return, we're reaching it.

There's a great line in John Waters' Female Trouble, wherein--praying her son is gay, and ever-trying to hook him up with dudes from the block--Edith Massey worries being straight will mean her son will have to "work in an office, have children, celebrate wedding anniversaries" and that "the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life."

Oh man, like Female TroubleFaster should be taught in schools, shown on the very last day, to promote rioting. We need rioting and destruction, fast. This one-channel world is a drag.  Is it really so bad to want to see some strong women set the whole damned world on fire? It's only a damned movie! I think gender relations will survive.


Actually -For some Meyeresque thrills, make sure to get the DVD set of Honey West starring Ann Francis. Lori Williams has a poolside cameo in the first episode (left)! Francis plays detective Honey as a capable swinger, both Emma Peele and John Steed rolled into one -- her handsome boy Friday may do the heavy stunts, but she's the lead and never lets him forget it (and there's no romance of male dominance - she calls all the shots). Each episode is only a half hour, so no time for filler either, though there is a rather repetitive reliance on the usual spy gadget gaggery - there's still feminist sex appeal and capable sleuthing. And of course:  Julie Newmar as Catwoman


Monday, July 16, 2018

Criterion's Dietrich Box's Masochist Supplement (Verboten!)

The arrival this month of Criterion's Dietrich-Von Sternberg Blu-ray boxed set (all six of their pre-code Paramount collaborations) answers an unspoken prayer I made a few years ago. I envisioned a different cover to the box, and some different extras, and MOROCCO looking slightly less faded, but only a Herbert Marshall-style ingrate squawks when prayers get answered. God--it seems--really is on speaking terms with everybody. BUT - what it really needed, or I would have loved to see, was an extra via Gaylyn Studlar. Let this humble post at least fire a salvo towards redressing that wrong.


The excellent liner notes and extras explore all sorts of great elements, both thematic and texural, except for a glaring omission. There is no exploration of the very obvious masochistic subtext running through these films like a hot river. The extras are guilty of shamefully ignoring the work of progressive film theorists like Steven Shaviro and--especially--Gaylyn Studlar. Her book In the Realm of Pleasure (left) deconstructs the Dietrich Sternberg films' kinky symbolism via a theory of the cinematic spectatorial gaze as inherently masochistic. This is a theory far different from, say, that of the sadistic gaze postulated by feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey. It's Mulvey's theory that has been not only utilized but rigidly enforced in feminist film studies the last few years, to the point the masochistic gaze is almost heresy. In fact, feminist film theory has been under such brutal siege by the Mulveyan male gazers that--like ISIS in ancient Babylon--all the great old edifices are in danger of being torn down. Even Mulvey herself is like, whoa, chill, it's just a talking point, a theory, not some buzzkill holy writ. (I paraphrase).

Studlar's book, alas, is rare enough that even the more open-minded academics don't often know about it. But they should, for--read along with revisiting the Dietrich-Von Sternberg collection,  is like opening a magic window into these films that makes them glow and resonate far beyond the--admittedly true and enticing--consensus of the historians, critics and academes on hand in the chosen melange of extras. Was Criterion scared it was too academic, or too kinky? Or were they worried Camille Paglia wouldn't be roused from her blood slumber in time to rescue them from third wave feminist reactionary clawing?

As it is, I heard Studlar's name mentioned only once in the extras. Homay King's excellent extra accompanying Shanghai Express mentions her concept of the 'heterocosm' i.e. an enclosed dream world outside space and time in which the film exists (i.e. it's not the 'China' of reality, but a kind of dream repository centered around the mystique of the 'Other').

Rather than just try and sum up the deep points Studlar makes in The Realm of Pleasure, I'll suggest you watch the films first then I'll point you back towards some of my previous posts exploring cinematic masochism, the voyeur as masochist - subject to having no control of the events in his experience, and how that relates to infancy and fear of abandonment by the mother and the embrace of death as pleasure being the ultimate act of pure control, of conquering death and moving past the pain-pleasure rim of the wheel right to the center. Yeah, man!

50 SHADES OF GREY, 9 1/2 WEEKS, EXIT TO EDEN, SECRETARY + SHE DEMONS, Franco, Bunuel, Josef von Sternberg, Alain Robbe-Grillet (7/31/14)

According to Gaylyn Studlar (4), true masochism can only exist in dreams, conjured more out of a need to safely experience the abyss, to trick out the satisfactory endorphin rush that surges to accommodate sudden pain (as in the heroic measure of wasabi or hot sauce); it must be done in person or in the mind where we can imagine a transformational ecstasy that ordinary movie watching doesn't accommodate. The shocking Times Square marquee, coming attraction, or the film capsule review might enflame or awaken these latent desires, but the actual film will never measure up; it's the difference between remembering your own crazy, erotic dream and hearing about someone else's. It's the difference between seeing the covers for films like Kitten with a Whip or Naked Under Leather vs. the actual--inevitably disappointing--movies.

As per Studlar:
"The fatalism of Von Sternberg's films is not simply an acceptance of death as an externally imposed inevitability but the expression of the masochistic urge toward death as a self-willed liberation. In choosing death, an illusionary triumph is created: the illusion of choice... (48) 
"...masochism's obsession with death may be interpreted either as the expression of a universal instinctual urge or as the result of the masochistic wish for complete symbiosis with the mother and a return to nothingness,.... Eros is desexualized and resexualized; death becomes the ultimate fetish that fascinates with the promise of a mystical unity." (p. 123)
Only Bunuel and Von Sternberg ever seemed to grasp this concept, and it's interesting that both adapted the same masochistic text, Pierre Louÿs "La femme et le pantin." For Bunuel, two different actresses play the Dietrich character, Conchita, in That Obscure Object of Desire: the sweet girl who entices him and the cold calculator who continually manipulates him into bankrolling her mercenary mother (and then bailing). Presumably teasingly withholding sex, but always promising it, she instinctively understands he needs and appreciates this long-term unfulfilled longing (he's rich and respected, she may be the only objet petit a he has. He might have some sexual liasons with her but we don't see them and they're never long enough to make him feel 'satisfied.' Some lovers are 'done' as soon as they climax. Well, some characters never want to be 'done' - it spoils the game, turns a long elaborate twisted ritual into a disappointingly short-lived gratification followed by shame and emptiness (be that due to impotence, premature ejaculation, or other). Similar to the two-faces of Concha in Bunuel's film, Marlene's Concha wears two outfits for separate seductions - pure white to lull the guards into letting her see the prisoner; a black mourning outfit to sway the prefect.

Maybe the whole trick to getting what you want is to deliberately want to want it rather than to have it (and so want your old wanting back, which is a double negative). Most magic tricks are part sleight-of-hand and part misdirection, but in masochism, misdirection is the trick. The slighted hands of the clock are frozen at bedtime, right before mom comes in to kiss you goodnight and turn out the lights. If you never get the kiss, the lights stay on and the demons under the bed can't get you. (2014)

If you know Marlene’s history you know she liked to sleep with a lot of different people, and broke the hearts of adoring males (and females) all the time when they realized they would never “own” her totally had to learn to share (which her husband well knew, as he archived all her various love letters for her), and that’s where masochism and sublimation comes in. Imagine being JVS and you’re basically living at Marlene’s estate, painting a picture out on the lawn and here comes Gary Cooper’s car and you know that you wont be sleeping with Marlene all weekend, and will just have to wait til she gets bored of Cooper, who is taller and younger than you, etc. Do you throw your canvas to the ground and have a fit? Get a gun and run around the estate like the thuggish gamekeeper in Rules of the Game? Neither one will get you anywhere but in jail or laughed at. The artist Von Sternberg on the other hand lives for that moment, that flush of Oedipal rage and shame, harnessing its power, converting the emotional energy via artistic sublimation, Sternberg’s painting merely becomes darker and more twisted… better, in short. (full - 2009 - Bright Lights)

From: (Butterfly Moanin: DUKE OF BURGUNDY and Faerie Bower Cinema)

And so it is that these films show us a variation of sex we are, as single perspective organisms, forever denied in real life: we get to find out what our moms were like before we were born. It's something we'll just never know in real life, except through keyholes, screens (projections, paintings, pictures) dreams, and rebirth. In these films we finally understand, perhaps, why the patriarchy, the male gaze as per Mulvey, is so terrified of the female orgasm. I don't mean the little 'sneeze' girls get, or even the cherished involuntary vaginal contraction versions, but the one--eternal female orgasm--that comes later, and last forever, and increases and increases, feeding its own orgone energy flame until the alchemical awakening of the Kali destroyer / creator goddess, a withering force as devastating to the phallic tower as a great flood, is achieved, and even then... When this occurs, the male gaze is blinded in the flash, and not even Oedipus' stiff braille guide rope can help him find the door, let alone the keyhole. (More)


Cinema's Naughtiest Germans:
Mecha-Medusa and the Otherless Child: THE RING, SHERLOCK JR., VIDEODROME (2004)
Death Driving Ms. Henstridge: GHOST OF MARS, RIO BRAVO (2003)
Naomi Watts: Cinema’s Post-Modern Mother of Mirrors
Hope vs. the Scandanivian Svengalis: THEY CALL HER ONE-EYE; I'LL TAKE SWEDEN

ANGELS OF DEATH - II: Great Women of Horror
ANGELD OF DEATH III: Badass Brunette Edition
ANGELS OF DEATH IV: Lynn Lowry Special Edition 
ANGELS OF DEATH V: Magic Slut Split/Subject Maenad Edition

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