Friday, November 10, 2006

Be Fearless: Brick and the Kingpin

The high school nerd gets his just due in this hardboiled noir set in some chillingly remote California suburb. Branden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a loner with glasses who eats lunch by himself near the dumpsters behind the high school. He used to be more social, but druggie Laura (Nora Zehetner) broke his heart. His lonesome blues are over when note in his locker leads him to a remote pay phone where his Laura soon calls, raving about “the pin’s brick” and asking for Branden's help. The only other guy with glasses and a modicum of intelligence in the school is Brain (Matt O'Leary) who lends his aid. Branden runs up the social ladder in search of his girlfriend’s assailants, finding drugs, decadence and deceit all the way. That’s all fine and good in an update on various themes from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (drug wars with the detective hero pretending to be on both sides; a femme fatale; an uneasy truce with the fall-guy seeking police; expendable patsies, POV beatings, etc.)

In addition to the cleverness of transporting this noir scenario to a high school setting, the choice to play Branden as utterly fearless is utterly awesome. The closest thing to him in film of recent memory is probably Billy, the kid from American Beauty who deals Kevin Spacey his government-grade pot. To overcome fear at that age is no easy feat, but Brandon takes endless beatings, picking fights with hulking football players and drug thugs and winning every time. When his glasses are punched off his face, he merely pulls out a case with another pair, the way Clint Eastwood might pull out a cheroot in a Sergio Leone western.

Along with the amazing, clever dialogue and the great use of geometric composition to establish a sense of suburban desolation at every turn, this is easily the best neo-noir since The Last Seduction and an important step forward in showing young male viewers a protagonist other than the simple minded hunk bore who gets the girl or the coded gay best friend hysteric in the chick flick; the sneering pretty boy; the geeky obese avenger; and so on. Enacted by Gordon-Levitt, Brandon is an inspiring character who should motivate a generation of men and teens to stand up and take their punches like a man, then throw back with everything they have, all in the name of love... baby. Lukas Haas also scores as the drug kingpin. They have some great Sergio Leone-style staring contests.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lolita Nation

Since the advent of AMERICAN BEAUTY and that Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears (where you see even former presidential nominee Bob Dole drooling over her), we've been collectively in a spiral of youth worship. Men are encouraged to have mid-life crises, get that jet ski, quit their jobs and back out of their marriages (to shrill hellish Annette Benning-style wives) and go after the 18-23 year old of their dreams. Some of us have gone and done this, some of us have regretted it, some have married them and had a second batch of kids, THEN lived to regret it. Some just keep it a fantasy... and get unreasonably hostile towards girls that attract them in that way (and then the girl has to report them) and so it goes.

But WHO grows out of it? Who transcends it? Was it always this way? What happened?

In my estimation, it all began with the death of John Lennon in December of 1980. Before that, America was a place with a lot more touching: parents and babysitters of both genders touched children, played with them, rolling around on the floor, tickling and sitting on laps, and so forth. Then Lennon got shot and the peaceful concept of "love" as a force that transcended sex and politics, love as a unity of all people of all ages and races rather than of sex partners and sex partners only, was put on the shelf.

Then came this scare in the early 1980s of children being molested at day care centers. Suddenly every kid was having recovered memories of being molested at their day care center. From then on, the panic over improper touching of children completely overrode the fact that children need to be touched, not sexually but like monkey-grooming style. Now sex seems to be the only way these lost girls can get their father back, symbolically speaking. Here in our fatherless society, these lost girls wear all this Bob Dole-approved sexy stuff in order to snare the attention of the older man, which they then spurn, because they don't really want the sex, so much as the love and attention, masked in the idea of the power of the tease. They oscillate, like a dangling carrot before the horny horse, trying to lure it into some kind of paternal/older brother surrogate forward movement without getting bitten in half.

Older Male educators or others who work with young women on a regular basis sometimes unconsciously learn to parlay this need into a tool for getting the young women to do their homework or get into AA. It's only when the man is going through a midlife crisis, is sexually frustrated and constantly fighting with a belittling foreign wife, etc., that this otherwise positive father/older brother surrogate situation can run afoul of the law, or common decency.

This is brilliantly represented in the film, "Blue Car," for example, where a fatherless young girl befriends her English professor, who mistakes her need for a strong paternal force as a romantic crush which he is only to happy to equivocate having a tragic home life that's rendered his concept of family to shards of meaningless disconnect. The film is devastatingly honest and highly recommended.

A less honest film is "Hard Candy" wherein a little Red Riding Hood style disem-baller played by the able Ellen Page is forced to spout reams of unrealistic dialogue with this bland pedophile played by a bland actor's workshop type. The worst aspect of it: she doesn't actually cut off his balls, after all this build up, as if to actually do so would be going too far. Fuck that! Castrate the prick!!

Instead, the movie itself is castrated, hesitating at the moment of truth in grand punter fashion. Patriarchy's castration anxiety strikes again! Fuck that.

So now, everything is filtered through the sex looking glass in a way it hasn't been since the great Anita Hill PC-putsch of 1990-1992... Now it's all somewhow OK that immature men run out on their daughters to be free of family responsibility, only fall in love with a fatherless teenager in a musical chairs of pseudo-incest..

But is sex the ultimate goal, or merely the healing "touch" of another human, the same kind of touch each would have gotten in the 1970s in an EST-style encounter group, all without having to feel guilty? Am I just imagining the greater liberty of that decade? I was only a child, age 3-13, but I molested three babysitters, only one was male. I remember clearly: I started all of it. I was no victim. Very little of it would have been considered indecent at the time, but now -- they'd be in jail and/or I'd be in therapy, encouraged to see those experiences as violation rather than exploration. Not that I'm not. And not that this is meant to demote the other version - if I was a cute girl instead, who knows what legit traumas I may have endured in those same situations? I just mean, well... what the fuck do I mean? That it's a big chthonic mess?

What kind of goal is sex, ultimately, anyway? The media uses it to sell soap, for God's sakes... but everyone whose had a post-orgasmic depression knows that ultimately it's a genetic con job. Don't fall for it! Be nice! Auto-castrate yourself and be free forever!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Notes on Charlie's Angels

The man of masculinity has only a handful of choices as he ages -- the burly Kris Kristofferson on the farm route, the handsome dad who drives the babysitter home route, the wise old sage who coughs route and the fun fat guy who drinks route.

Bosley is great as this last one; he's been brain damaged by his connection to the lovely girls of the show. Their hormones have wreaked a genuine winged and whip-weilding fury onto his lowly testes. He has found his god too, and serves the mighty Charlie. Castrated and thrust into service of the invisible other, Bosley is the white version of all those wiley chauffers Mantan Moreland played in the 1940s, always doing what needs be done but making it look like an accident.

The mighty Charlie is an ingenious concept, for as long as he isn't seen, he's immortal and all male viewers like him. He's not competition for the angels attention because he's "far away" and surrounded by (always less attractive) bitches of his own.

Like the Wizard of Oz, Charlie also teaches us that the UNSEEN subject is the one with power. In this way CHARLIE is a WIZARD OF OZ with the luxury of not being uncovered by that infernal dog, Toto. The angels need no Toto. And it is important that he stay invisible to them as well, even though they tease about it and try to see him all the time. His visibility is their desire, the way Smith's breasts are to the viewer, things we are safe in longing for due to their remoteness. (If they did actually see Charlie, they'd inevitably feel some measure of disappointment, while if they never see him he stays eternally beautiful).

What we in our priest-spooked ignorance fail to realize when we try to overthrow these hidden rulers is that we LIKE the unseen ruler. The seen ruler is evil and odious because inevitably some aspect of him will remind us of ourselves, or our odious younger brothers, or oppressive fathers. Once Charlie is seen he becomes that smug artist in Hitchcock's The TROUBLE WITH HARRY now grown old and possibly paunched -- and certainly debauched. The good father is the unseen Charlie; the anal father is the visible Charlie. Thus, one must always keep they Charlie hidden, lest you give the game away.

This is also akin to a person not being able to stand the suspense of a novel and so cheating and reading the last chapters first. What the writer knows is that the ending is almost always a sad one, because it shuts us out of the future. The story continues in a direction we cannot know. If the book ends tragically we feel better in the long term to be in our own reality, while a happy reality's happiness is correspondingly short-lived. The ending is always a Medusa grimace, and the narrative apparatus once more turns to stone.

If we do not seek to look at Charlie we always dwell in smoggy but babe-filled Los Angeles, protected from on high by the mighty Aaron Spelling. If we look upon Charlie, he shall be as one who has jumped a mighty shark.

If we seek to gaze at Charlie we are dislodged from paradise. We snap from the narrative and behold our mate on the couch, sleepy and real, and the aches in our legs and our noses. We need to get back right quick, but all we can think of is how saggy were His eyelids, how white was His thinning hair, how skull-like and frail his human, failing smile.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Angels Vs. Goodfellas Vs. Alias

I'm sitting here trying to monitor my maturity via the movies I turn to for solace, and now the DVD seasons. I've broken them down into several different categories --

The "Woman and a Gun" movies and TV shows
Giant monsters
Old black and white pre-code comedy
W.C. Fields & The Marx Brothers
Japanese Horror & Samurai Cinema
Hong Kong Cinema
Classic horror of the 1930s and 1940s
Classic Films - As in to savor with an artistic pallette -- Hithcock, Powell & Pressburger, Welles, well what Welles there is on DVD... and of course, Howard Hawks.
Psychedelic and/or spirituality
Avant Garde shit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Joey, He's a Wild One.

Much has been written of our collective fascination with the gangster, especially as he appears in cinema. We forget, comfortably ensconced in our middle class malaise, that these scourges of humanity are the very leeches around our necks. In certain places and periods throughout history, the gangster has effectively taken over the city in which he lives--Prohibition-era Chicago, for example. In every case, his is a siphon on the productivity of the populace.

And yet, we love him because he represents the drive to live free of the constraints of the nine to five. He is a self-made man, usually rising up from immigrant poverty because he has the guts to risk jail and death. There's a little Stockholm syndrome in there was well, certainly.

Watching Goodfellas over the last few nights, for the zillionth time, is to admire again the way Scorcese overlays both these aspects. We are simultaneously horrified and amused by the homicidal antics of Joey (Joe Pesci), the pint-sized gangster with a psychopathic personality that makes the Napoleanic chip on his shoulder progressively more dangerous. The thing we understand in this film, as in many gangster epics, is that we are going to see nearly ALL the violence in the real life story of Henry Hill, the wiseguy played by Ray Liotta, who narrates. Scorcese does take time to wallow in the hideous decor and clothing choices of the gangsters and their wives... but it seems that if a few years in Hill's life are violence-free, we won't see them. The result is a portrayal of the addiction of killing, a subject which links the films with Shakesepearean works like Macbeth and Richard III, where once you "break the seal" and get away with it, murder becomes a habit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thy Name is Charlie

I've been trying to take some comfort in the last ditch DVD womb I got, the original 1970s Charlies Angels seasons 1 and 2 on DVD.

I used to be in love with Kate Jackson. My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Zackon looked a bit like Kate but more brown hair-ish and her hair was longer and slightly wavy in that blow-dried but not Farrah-level 1970's working girl style. I loved Ms. Zackon too and she and Kate combined to form one perfect dream girl... older, cool, taking me to the hip spots, holding my hand as we meandered through the carnival, etc. I was obsessed with girls and MILFs, but in that pre-orgasmic, polymorphously perverse manner, where sitting on the teacher's lap was a deliriously perverse pleasure and there was no need to look beyond that for satisfaction. (I was approx 9-11 through the height of the show's popularity).

Part of the appeal of the show was that my dad refused to let me watch it as it started exactly at my bedtime. Only on the rarest of occasions would I get to see it... my imagination soared when hearing the other kids descriptions of what happened on that and then SWAT right after... I collected the cards and bought and stole teen magazines that had pictures of them, cutting them out and making a huge scrap book of their images.

Watching the show now I'm floored by how slow and meandering it is. It's fun when the angels are allowed to bond and play and joke amongst themselves, showing some 1970s spark and feminist oomf, but often the shows get hung up in the plot, with guest star bad guys getting in and out of cars and plain looking Los Angeles buildings and the angels going undercover in ridiculously elaborate sting operations. All the action seems to occur during the day: ice skating events, circuses, bar room brawls, all in the middle of the LA afternoon with no one around. All these events have approx. 10-20 people at them and they all occur in bland, featureless edifices, lots of empty space for these seasoned TV thespians to mug the hell out of whatever basic plot advancing dialogue they are given. If I'd have been allowed to watch the show on a regular basis, who knows if my obsession would have been as strong.

The structure of the show is brilliant in itself however...psychologically it's brilliant in a way that either today's industry HACKS have completely forgotten, or the else maybe times have changed. Nowadays all the Angels would have boyfriends, be obsessed with children, and getting married, cheating on each other, and on and on. Hunky guys would be dating the angels and we'd be supposed to identify with them and/or with the Angels.

In the TV show there is NO point of identification in the diegesis-- In the TV show no girl ever hooks up with a guy -- they're detectives and this is business. They are devoted to only one man, Charlie, whose face we never see, and so we never have to form an opinion on him, resent his success or envy him or aspire to be like him in the Hugh Hefner vein.

Also, there is rarely if any sexual harassment, or suggestions of rape. Even when the angels are jailed and sent to work in a whorehouse they manage to avoid having to actually sleep with anyone. Thus as a young male viewer there is no anxiety over our perceived inability to defend them against our own sex.

See, we don't IDENTIFY with guys on the screen, that's the mistake they make today, guys COMPETE with guys onscreen, unless they earn our trust in an alpha male sort of way (such as Russell Crowe) or are portrayed as below our stature (like WilL Ferrell) they are our competition, a threat to our enjoyment. Charlie takes us away from all that, that's why the one male who is allowed in the Angels lives is the symbolically neutered Bosley. A fun-loving endomorphic sort of a fellow, Bosley is competent and knows how to have a good time -- and is a bit of a slob. He's more likely to eat all of Kelly's popcorn at the ice show ("Angels on Ice") then he is to fall for her.

If we EVER would have seen Charlie's face in the show, it would instantly lose its mystique; it would be the equivalent of jumping the shark, of Willis and Shepherd hooking up in MOONLIGHTING or Sam and Diane, or the eventually incestuous FRIENDS, i.e. the disappointment is of finally getting the girl of your dreams in bed and STILL being unhappy, disappointed as we always are with the post-orgasmic reality at the end of the tunnel. To leave him to the imagination is to become him. But while Charlie remains unseen, the show stays in a perpetual pre-sexual twilight zone. The girls are all basically nuns in this regard, with Charlie as Christ. They are devoted to him--as an ideal of manhood in the abstract -- he is always kind, assured, generous, ontop of things, displaying wealth and a sense of cool, like James Bond wih a Blofeld style set-up. If the angels could only see his face, they'd be in heaven -- but then also they would be disillusioned, they'd become drug addicted prostitutes.

After decades of tiresome "will they or wont they?" TV shows such as Moonlighting, X-Files, Cheers, etc., it's great to rediscover a show where sex is completely subsumed within the narrative. The only sex is what YOU as the viewer bring, like a BYOB restaurant.

Angels... heaven.... death.... pre-oedipal viewing fantasy.... it's all connected, man. Spelling knows.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Started watching THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR which stars Robert Redford. He's HORRIBLE! He's the freakin' 1970s Tom Cruise, the guy with the American flag stuck so far up his ass the rest of us have to continually apologize to him. Faye Dunaway is his latest victim, and she seems as shell-shocked and uncomfortable by him as we are. This film has dated badly and I would like to be taken off the case.

Before that I started to watch Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT but couldn't get into it once old Hume Cronyn showed up. I can't stomach the small town big house movie, with the short old duffer dad, the smart aleck youngsters, the daydreaming tweener. Give me Hillary Duff any day!! It's all too repulsive.

I think I must be in a bad mood. But this weekend looks promising!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Devil Wears Prada & Superman - Girls to the left / Boys to the Right

(Pictured at right-- Ruth Chatterton, star of 1933's FEMALE, a predecessor to Devil Wears Prada)

One can virtually guarantee what sort of crowds will be in which of the two big movies opening today, Streep & Co. in the Devil Wears Prada for the women by themselves or in groups and the women with compliant submissive men as dates, and for Superman, disturbed loners too left-brained for Marvel.

The ideology for each film is, of course, totally fascist.

Superman, in his deluded disguise as protectorate for truth, justice and the American way, is nothing but a pawn for big business, for the amok patriarchy. At least Lex Luthor wants to have fun, wants to shake things up. Superman wont let a single domino fall, as if we have some shortage of people in the world. And meanwhile there's little investment in a hero who can literally do anything and has as a weakness only some ultra rare alien element. I know there are comic book fans who prefer DC to Marvel, I just never hung out with them. And neither should you.

What Superman needs to do is stop being so namby pamby and go to war against the real forces of evil. Can you imagine him in Iraq? How would he tangle with terrorists? Would he be pro or anti torture of prisoners? He would either be totally worthless in the field (except that he could sniff out suicide bombers and throw them deep into the ocean) or he would be killing people right and left. Either way, it wouldn't be fair to either side. As Patton would say, there's no glory, there's nothing affirmed.

As it is, in these delusional popcorn fantasies, a white guy in tights is all the world needs to dispel evil... I haven't seen it yet, but I understand the concept is that Superman has "been away" and is coming back to set things right. "Sigh" -- Supe, unless you're going to sever the corrupt ties between big oil and the govt., don't bother.

Same goes for DEVIL WEARS PRADA, which somehow posits the obnoxious editor of a fashion magazine as someone who has "earned" everyone's fear and hatred, ala Martha Stewart. Here we perpetuate the stereotype of high powered NYC executives as total bitches... but wait, played by Meryl Streep, we are assured that there's some good there deep in her soul and that all the yelling and bitchiness is a front to keep the illusion that this shit is important, that fashion means anything besides $$$ filched from the pockets of professional working women and gay men.

SUPERMAN seems just typical white boy foolishness but PRADA seems genuinely harmful in advocating the idea which a lot of girls have already gleaned from shows like SEX IN THE CITY and JUST SHOOT ME, that women who work high powered jobs in NYC are expected to be total bitches at work and total sluts outside of it. The third wave feminists "take back" the right to be bitchy, as if bitchiness isn't in itself a sign of weakness. When I worked in the high end art world I could always tell the truly rich and successful people from their hangers-on, they were nice to everyone, respectful and regular, they earned our loyalty automatically and intrinsically. Bitchiness is a sign you feel inferior to the people you're being rude to and have to compensate by making a big fuss, unaware in your flummoxed state that insecurity self-perpetuates through bitchiness. A woman who shall be nameless but she's a well known British art dealer who dated my old boss used to scream at me for hours, right in front of clients, leaving me only amused and vaguely turned on. I felt sorry for her because I knew she was losing the sale and scaring the client and showing what a nervous mess she was. The (rich and very cool) client and I rolled our eyes at each other in sympathy.

Is this the message girls should be absorbing as they prepare to enter the workplace? Of course until I see the movie (which I doubt I will) I can't really judge, but this is certainly the message of the PREVIEWS which I have seen ad nauseum. If you are a girl, bitchiness = professionalism. And if you're a guy with bad social skills, settle yourself in the dark with your popcorn and soda armor and don't worry about it. Superman cometh.
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