Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Now bleed for me...

One of my best college friends, John "Fattie"--and his thug brother Chug--went to grade school in Brooklyn with Darren Aronofsky, where according to John, they used to throw his ass a beatin'. Every time I come out of an Aronofsky film I feel like ole Darren's returned the favor, in spades, to all the world. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was like being raped in the eye and now he pummels us with the wide-eyed stare-down into the dilated pupils of death that is THE WRESTLER, which includes scenes of Mickey Rourke getting punched with a staple gun, slicing his own forehead with a razor, popping steroids; sticking his thumb into a meat slicer; doing pile drivers (in both definitions), and waking up in the beefcake-postered rooms of grotty coke whores. I was so "wounded" by DREAM back in 1998 that I was glad John had beaten up Mr. A, a sort of a priori payback for the beating Mr. A. had just given me, cinematically speaking. But with THE WRESTLER, we can all finally bury our grudges and just enjoy the fight... to the death... for what it is: muscle-headed spectacle in a world of aging meat products with bleached hair. And that's okay. As the Joker and Tyler Durden taught us, a punch in the face can set you free. Forget about Spielberg's meaningless morals of "pursuing your dreams" - punching them is much more cathartic.

Though the fly-on-the-wall grainy video style of the film leaves little room for expressionistic detail in the visuals, Aronofsky more than makes up for that limitation in the sound editing. Noises start so quiet as to be subliminal, growing slowly louder--as in the cheering of fans that blurs imperceptibly with the whoosh of exhaust and backing up of forklifts in the storage areas behind the supermarket where Randy the Ram works by day. But the real gist of it is found in the triumphant spectacle of a man charging into battle and risking death, whether it be in the world of blood and muscle spectacle as in THE WRESTLER, or putting on a show like ALL THAT JAZZ, where death and mortality seem to be happening to you and your protagonist in another dimension as you watch, vaguely aware that while the fight or musical finale is going on down on the ground, up there, somewhere, just out of sight but still audible, doctors and nurses are standing over your lifeless body. It's all in the oceanic surging of blood through ears as captured in the roar of the Aronofsky universe of compromised physicality.

Daved Cronenberg tries for this sort of "body trauma" cinema, but I think, perhaps, Cronenberg didn't get enough beatings up in Canadian grade school (are there bullies up there at all?). He can't put you in the thick of it, where your heartbeat entrains to the rhythms of the film until you begin to breathe in how the only difference between a theater seat and a hospital bed is the illusion of permanence in the seat, presumably you're less anxious to escape the one, but which one? Aronofsky's pain has transformed cinema, has split the difference between gut-bucket materialist atheism and the sublimely transcendental; you hear it in the subliminal heart monitor "beep beep" that follows Randy the Ram wherever he goes, like a squad of Valkyries all played by Jessica Lange as animated by Ray Harryhausen and choreographed by Bob Fosse. "Bye Bye Life..." All that's missing is Ben Vereen, in tights!

Before the grunge wave in the early 90s, it was all about long hair, Billy Squier doing "The Stroke" and Twisted Sister's Slade covers. It was the pride that goeth before the pre-Cobained fall into superficial sighs of frat boy irony and aggressively couched indifference. Cobain taught us that even raging against the machine we could feel like phonies, but before the dawn of that awareness we hung onto adolescent cheeseball revelry like a life vest mantra in a roiling sea of homogenized homophobic sameness; blazing down to the mall in our mom's ratty red hatchbacks, battery-powered boombox taking up the whole back seat --THE WRESTLER is flash frozen in that world. The Ram still plays his cassette tapes and old 1980s Nintendo wrestling game, still digs the bright-colored spandex and the Guns N Roses (his favorite horror film director is certainly John Carpenter. We can see Randy easily playing the Rowdy Roddy Piper part in THEY LIVE). Randy's sort of 80's has-been has already been satirized (BALLS OF FURY to name just one) even before this movie came out. That's cool. Randy knows; he just takes it all in stride. Stride could be the name of the band he played in back in '87, if he'd played in a band, instead of wrasslin', which is twice as narcissistic in ways he can't quite fathom.

It all works in favor of Aronofsky's withering vision, and since Rourke's heyday too was the 1980s, wherein he started out too pretty for his own liking, and finished uglied beyond repair, not unlike the decade itself. When he says "I hated the 90s" to a haggard Marissa Tomei, you can feel their world-weary pain both as actors (Tomei was big in the 90's like Rourke was in the 80's) and characters (she plays a stripper getting too old for the pole just as he's getting too old for the ropes). In the rest of the world getting old is certainly a pretty major drag but in show business it's worse than death. When Randy gives a big speech about burning the candle at both ends, you know he's not looking for sympathy, he's just letting you know what's at stake, why to him it matters more than life itself that he give the fans a great pile driver. It may be his last speech, so it's important you know he's cool with it. Don't we all do the same thing, latch onto the pop culture trappings of a bygone era as a way to dig our heels in the sand as mother time packs our towels and shovels, always too soon? Just keep facing inland and maybe we wont notice the scythe-swipe tsunami rolling towards us. Aronofsky's cinema is all about turning your head back around, popping your bubblegum, letting the full horror of the wave hit our wide Marilyn Burns CHAINSAW eye, and letting death 'bring it.' We can't avoid aging, or dying, but we can avoid being a wuss about it. That's the core of the masochistic viewer cinema response -- in moving towards inevitable death instead of away from it, we finally experience the full glory of choice, of raising our hands and whooping as the roller coaster plunges, rather than clutching the safety bar and closing our eyes.

And the big question people have about pro wrestling itself: "How can we care about the big final fight in a game that's fixed?" Well let me tell you, it's easy to keep your blinders on, but take them off and you will come away as I did, feeling like the prearranged "show" fights are where the real action is, not the other way around. Anyone can fight if they're emotionally invested in bashing an enemy's head in, but it takes real transcendental masochism, capital M, to fight someone you're buddies with, to have him inform you he wishes to staple your body with a staple gun and being able to shrug and say, "Bring it, scythe-swipe tsunami!" Whatever lesson in toughness Aronofsky learned being beaten up in school by John Fattie and Chugg, he has since imparted to the rest of the world. I think here of those lyrics from Jane's Addiction:

"When I was a boy
My big brother held onto my hands
and he made me slap my own face
I looked up to him then and still do --
he was trying to teach me something.

and now I know what it was
And now I know what it is." -- ("Of Course" - Ritual De Habitual)

What was it Perry F. and Aronofsky and Rourke and maybe you have learned? Don't go back to Rockville, or Marisa Tomei and your deli job (his in-store rampage will forever be one of my favorite scenes in movies, and I'm sure every 16 year-old suffering through his first soul-crushing after-school job will feel the same), just say 'bring it' and stand your ground. One of the reasons I love this movie so much is that it rejects the sacramental "family" life that the Spielbergs brainwashed us to revere without question. Instead, THE WRESTLER validates the choices made by Jesus to get up on the cross and moan for the masses even though he could have split before the Romans came. Or there's the fable where the scorpion stings the frog halfway across the river and they both die, because "it's his nature." In THE WRESTLER, it's all about being true to your nature, to make that one good sting, so you don't have to ever crawl again; just go ahead and drown, just ride that dead frog to the bottom, whooping as you plunge, breathe in the water and let the mermaids swim to you, algae-covered Oscars in their ancient coral hands.

Addendums here

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Kuersten Family Xmas Cinema Diary 2008

At the Kuersten house over the holidays we had, as usual, just the four of us -- my similarly childless brother (and hulking gun nut) Fred, my Orson Wellsian dad and Hitchcokian ice queen blonde mom. We're always celebrating the lack of rugrats with salty language and there's always lots of movies to keep the focus away from our own shock at how each other is turning out. Our choices are always unusual and worth documenting, especially now that dad has Tivo and is more likely to not subject us to endless rounds of college and NFL football.

AMAZONS (dir. Alejandro Sessa )
Made with the same cast and on the same day as BARBARIAN QUEEN! For Roger Corman! In Argentina! Crappy old horror/sci fi/fantassy movies have been a Kuersten staple since I was a child, and I cut my wit's teeth doing MSTK3-style quip-a-thons with dad over afternoon creature features, as I'm sure did a lot of current horror fans. I was grateful that there were so many hot naked blonde chicks in this movie, because my panic attacks at being stranded in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, were very bad and cute Nordic blonde chicks in furs really ease the pain. This was the first and last "bad" movie of the entire trip though, as my dad declared a moratorium (AMAZONS was actually my DVD gift to him from the previous Xmas, along with ASTRO-ZOMBIES, as yet unopened). Despite the general air of amateur theater, I dug AMAZONS and tried to convince my family that something this profound needed to be seen twice.

BIGGER THAN LIFE (dir. Nicholas Ray)
When you come from a lineage with Swedish, German and old school Colonial-American genes, you can bet there's going to be streaks of chemical addiction a mile wide and what better family fun film to celebrate the holidays can there be than the realization that there's a lot of violence and megalomania that we missed out on, making us a pretty cool family after all? James Mason is great as the dad who shouldn't, as my dad explained several times during the film, have had to pay for his steroids since he's taking them as part of a clinical trial. Also, he doesn't regulate his own dosage and is soon torturing his family through various self-aggrandizing educational schemes as the drugs catch his ego unawares and launch him into full-blown psychosis, eventually even trying to sacrifice his boy via scissors and a bible. We all loved squirming under the lash of Mason's "too close to home" insanity, but we didn't like squirming over the happy cop-out ending. Angry and disgruntled, we gave it three stars, same as Leonard Maltin, our patron saint.

EL DORADO (dir. Howard Hawks)
Westerns are a big favorite with the family Kuersten, and Howard Hawks always goes down smooth. This one starts out being a rowdy and rousing story of Wayne's hired gun getting caught up in a range war, with Robert Mitchum as his old pal the sheriff and Ed Asner (!) as the bad guy. Somewhere along the line, Hawks turns it into a Rio Bravo remake, but so what? Hawks was always stealing from himself. It's part of his auteur-ness, I don't know why I'm even defending him! There's no need. Plus, our family can certainly relate, with me ten years sober in AA, and my dad and brother already on their third brace of martinis. Mom kept talking over some of the best dialogue, but at least dad was quiet and reverent.

THE MAGIC FLUTE (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
I sprung this on pops as a late night surprise, knowing he'd dig that I dug Mozart, (my ex-Swiss mistress turned me onto this back at an old Film Forum screening). Ulrich Kold (pictured at top) reminds me a lot of my dad too, so I was into it, except my dad fell into his late night "suffused with transcendental love and reverence" phase and you couldn't hear the music since he was so busy waxing rhapsodic over it. Whatever, I love the man, and Ulrich Kold too!

M*A*S*H (dir. Robert Altman)
This was a last minute gift from me to pops, who is a former market research analyst for a reputable pharmaceutical corporation and never lets you forget it! Having only seen this on pan and scan video, usually with drunken townies in the room, I was pleased to find my dad providing me a new angle through which to percieve and enjoy the film, not only as a great example of 1970's sexually liberated earthiness and un-PC good-natured anarchy, but the spiritual overtones that place doctors and nurses as the atheistic equivalent of angels and Christ figures.

OUT OF THE PAST (dir. Jacues Tourneur)
Too much talking to really sink into this one, but we've all seen it before. Being stuck in NC, where the only pretty girl for miles around is my mom, I really fell in love with Rhonda Fleming, as the "good" girl who competes with Jane Greer's puffy-lipped double crosser. She's sooo gorgeous! Why, I wondered, why can't she see that Mitchum is no good for her and she should reach across the sea of time and take my hand? My dad actually started waxing on about the amazing time machine effect of old movies, that these actors are all old or dead yet here they are, younger than we are, and we're aging while they stay young, as if we are their Doiran Gray oil paintings in reverse. I told him, "I've been blogging about that idea for years," but he couldn't hear me, through the veils of time... and highballs.. and all the other tricks by which fathers outpace their sons.

CASINO ROYALE (dir. Martin Campbell )
THis was the third time I'd seen this, and this time I really hated Vesper (Eva Green, pictured below), the British double crosser who won't give Bond the other five million pounds to bet with. What a bitch! What did Bond see in her? My dad blamed her lack of appeal on her lack of cleavage, and it was up to me to labor (in vain) to convince him this was not the case, as evinced in THE DREAMERS. Why were her breasts then not made more prominent in the film? He had me there. At any rate, we all loved Daniel Craig and I made sure to point out to my NRA-card-carrying brother that seeing Craig rise out of the blue waves with his hairless muscly body dripping slow motion drops was a fascinating subtextual gender-reversal mirror to Halle Berry doing the same in the previous Bond film (which in turn mirrored Ursula Andress in DR. NO).

That Vesper, how dare she snow Bond so thoroughly? I can't believe how in love with her I was after seeing ROYALE for the first time. Xmas, for me, is a time to look back on all the relationships I've had over the decades, the girls I brought home for the holidays, and so forth, and to shudder in my alienated lonesome doveliness, knowing the warmth of my family creates a "safe place" for such torturous self-examination and moping to occur. Oh Vesper, all is forgiven! Come on home!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 20 Favorite Actresses



(UPDATED 4/16) I picked my favorite actresses, as in actresses I personally love or fell in love with--at some point--which does not necessarily mean they are great actresses - though most are. (I love Liz Taylor and Kate Hepburn, for example, but I'm not "in" love with them like I am with Bibi Anderson or was as a child with Kate Jackson or Marcia Brady (though I've excluded them since I'm all grown). Also I've included the two films I love them for (as in Bacall or Lyon, two is all it takes). If they didn't have at least two, they're not in this list (i.e. Linda Fiorentino).
Where applicable I have linked to something I've written about them in the past, or else linked to a recommended writer who may offer more about them than I could -- as when reading about Jane Fonda, one naturally reaches for the work of Kim Morgan, or if thinking Michelle Pfeiffer it's Nathaniel R. When it's Vera Farmiga, I like to think it's all about me... and Vera Farmiga... 4 Eva.

1. Marlene Dietrich - Morocco, Shanghai Express
2. Veronica Lake -This Gun for Hire, I Married a Witch
3. Myrna Loy - The Thin Man, Mask of Fu Manchu
4. Lauren Bacall - The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not 

6. Carole Lombard - Twentieth Century, Nothing Sacred

7. Barabara Stanwyck - Night Nurse, The Lady Eve

8. Karen Morley - Scarface, Arsene Lupin

9 - Ella Raines - Phantom Lady, Hail the Conquering Hero 

10 Sandahl Bergman - Conan The Barbarian, All that Jazz

11. Asia Argento - New Rose Hotel, Scarlet Diva
12. Natasha Henstridge - Species, Ghosts of Mars
13. Anita Louise - Midsummer Night's Dream, Under Eighteen
14. Sue Lyon - Lolita, Night of the Iguana
15. Naomi Watts - The RingMulholland Drive
16. Bibi Andersson - Persona, Passion of Anna


17. Famke Janssen - Goldeneye, Deep Rising
18. Beatrice Dalle Betty Blue, Trouble Every Day
19. Kim Novak - Bell, Book and Candle, Strangers When We Meet
20. Susan Cabot - Wasp Women, Sorority Girl

Damn, you see a trend emerging here? I'm seeing a trend emerging here.

Runners up (with one beloved role for which I adore them) would be: Anita Louise (Midsummer Night's Dream), Michelle Pfeiffer (White Oleander, Married to the Mob), Carroll Baker (Baby Doll), Cathy O'Donnell (They Live by Night), Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill), Linda Fiorentino (Last Seduction), Linda Darnell (Letter to 3 Wives), Martha Vickers (Big Sleep), Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey), Anna Karina (Pierrot Le Fou), Kay Francis (One-Way Ticket), Mae Clarke (Frankenstein), Fay Wray (King Kong), Nastassja Kinski (Cat People), Linda Hamilton (Terminator), Patricia Arquette (True Romance), Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice). Kiera Knightley (Domino), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Valerie Leon (Blood from the Mummy's Tomb), Julie Newmar (Cat Woman), Jean Gillie (Decoy), Jane Fonda (Barbarella), Anita Pallenberg (Performance), Rita Hayworth (Only Angels Have Wings), 

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Plan 9X-Mas

There's something timelessly relevant about Ed Wood's Plan Nine From Outer Space, which makes it perfect holiday viewing for the entire family (once the eggnog has worked its late night magic). I've seen this film all my life in one form or another, my first big memory of it being on UHF TV at around six in the morning when I was probably six years old. You couldn't argue with a movie like Plan Nine if you were that young, and if any film was meant to be tuned on via the weird UHF TV antenna that used to sit on top of the TVs before cable, this was it, wavering in and out of reception, the white noise obscuring the cheapness of the production. It had everything I loved in one film: science fiction mixed with vampires, zombies, Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson, Criswell, all perfectly entwined in a plot so outlandish only a kid in his pajamas, up before his parents on a Sunday morning, could ever possibly hope to truly understand it.

Over the years, Plan Nine has only grown in stature, thanks to the efforts of Tim Burton (Ed Wood), horror magazines, and maverick film critics like Michael Medved and John Stanley (though they both seem to despise Ed Wood for "mocking" Lugosi's legend via the "can" of old posthumous footage). Much has been written about the Plan, much has been celebrated. But we've still got a long way to go before we get it right. That's what we're here for, to learn.

For one thing, there's a great pace and focus on the "good stuff" in Plan Nine. Unlike Wood's other films, there's no long pointless police station scenes and annoying comic relief. Sure, there's Wood mainstay Paul Marco's bumpling Kelton the cop, but even he is relatively under control. And anyway, we all love him (Marco, if you're reading this, your signed photo is on my wall) And if you are both a fan of movie monsters, and a fan of Godard or Brecht, you can revel in the lovingly mismatched day-for-night shots, the ridiculously sparse sets (the space ship interiors are empty sets with old ham radio junk on top of card tables, like some popular mechanics flea market of the damned) and that just makes you appreciate it all the more. It's like a present that comes to you already opened and played with--one of the arms may even be broken off--but for some reason that doesn't negate its value. Since it's no longer hermetically sealed it's connected to the vast panoply of other things under the tree. In receiving an opened present you essentially receive all of the world. Is this not, in the end, the fullest realization of Brecht's post-modern aesthetic? In accenting rather than concealing the theatricality, the narrative is mysteriously deepened in importance rather than lessened. What better gift for a six year old Prometheus than such precious alchemical irony?

You could argue that the hubcap spaceships are cheesy, for example. But why would you do that? They look cheesy in real life, as the recently declassified photos make evident. And the most amazing, topical aspect is still that what you have seen in heard not only has happened, but has yet to happen but will in fact happen in the future. As the Obscurantist rightly notes:
"That Plan 9 uses the most B of movie tropes to convey its message adds a layer of self-performative complexity which puts much high artistic output to shame. Looking back, we realize that the questions posed by the worst movie ever made”have resounded with sinister power across the socio-political landscape of the last half century."
Back in 1959 Ed Wood was the first to declare that the government was suppressing UFO knowledge, and that craft had been shot down by the government in battles over Hollywood and Washington DC. Would this horrifying truth be withstandable in any other format but Wood's midnight claptrap Hollywood spookshow? It would not. I lost this great book I used to have (by Bruce Rux) that postulated the government clandestinely employed Ed Wood to make this film intentionally bad while telling the truth, as part of a campaign of disinformation. It's totally crazy. But I believe it. So should you, and when pressed for the perfect late-night drunk-on-eggnog family film, may I recommend you should reach for Plan Nine from Outer Space? There may be no better way to prepare your family for the coming calamities. As Criswell once said:
"We once laughed at the horseless carriage, the aeroplane, the telephone, the electric light, vitamins, radio, and even television! And now some of us laugh at outer space. God help us… in the future..."
My pharmacist dad STILL laughs at vitamins, but aside from that, it's all good, all true and yes, Virginia, as long as that truth is told in spookshow basement B-movie form, the Plato's cave shadow, Perseus's Medusa mirror format, then yes, your heart can stand the horrible truths about... graverobbers from outer space.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Born to be Childless

(Note: Spoiler Alerts)
Oh what a difference sobriety (and age) makes. Seeing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on the big screen while not drunk (for the first time) has helped me see that beneath the film's boozy bravado is the terror of living life as a childless couple, growing old without children to block the vanishing point on the Grim Reaper's scythe swipe horizon. Taylor and George Segal have the 'animal magnetism' - the drive to claw your way up the orgasm-dancing spasm ladder - while Dennis and Burton play solo games of "peel the label" as the drunken dreamers (Dennis is already deeply sunk into the game before Segal catches on). Dennis' hysterical pregnancy mirrors Burton's murderous telegram (examples of 'kill your darlings' editorial ruthlessness-essential for good writer, terrible for a social animal trying to get ahead). Taylor is ferocious, Segal smug and bewildered, but Dennis is irrepressible, her innocent, booze-fueld bulimic-alcoholic (bucolic) mania the upward flip side of Burton's booze-fueled depression. I'd love to see a two-handed gender neutral version where the same actor plays both Burton and Dennis' parts, and the other Taylor and Segal's. Think about it, Wooster Gruppe!


I'm childless myself, and feel blessed I've never let myself get misty about it. One regrets either decision, as Socrates would say. If we regret now (young parents unable to get any sleep, peace or privacy while childless couples run wild and free), we don't regret it later (dying alone, undiscovered 'til the neighbors smell the corpse, like poor Yvette Vickers) but that's show biz. Divorced, better, best and bested, I know lots of other childless folks and we all struggle with it as we pass "the point of no return" Of course it's different for guys, but still... It's a little more acceptable now, but still... for dear old George and Martha, having no doubt married in the conservative 1950s, it has to be a bit of a sore spot, hence the creation of their imaginary child, the little bugger (though they keep it to themselves). And yet, just as the bugger is imaginary, so too is the ominous specter of the furred and fanged Woolf (pictured left) who looms over the film like an ominous towering menace.

If this blog entry seems a little whacked, forgive me. It's soggy and warm outside and after a stretch of biting cold, my body is reeling in a cosmic puppy dance of uncertainty and emotional ping-pong. Such spontaneous, seemingly off the cuff--even cheeky--ramblings seems only too pertinent when attempting to discuss such a sprawling masterpiece as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, wherein great gobs of mythopoetically psychohistorical insight come ripping across the screen in torrents, braying and guzzling, melons bobbling, trailing clouds of booze exhaust. In the newest DVD transfer, things are so sharp and clear you can see the spittle in her mouth. Wait, did I say that already? You can see Blonde on Blonde hanging on the wall in their house and Another Side of Bob Dylan hanging at the inn. Was that a thing or did the set decorator have a Dylan crush? It was the season. Have I been repeating myself again? Hannah? Hannah? Oh yeah, Hannah is in Night of Iguana! (pictured at right). Life's a half-familiar song a drunken fiddler plays / staggering merrily along / crooked alleyways.

I wish there were more films with dialogue by Albee or Williams - playwrights, y'know? These were men who knew how to find the nuggets of truth and wisdom amidst the leavings of their rampaging drunken demons. Writers can't get that high anymore thanks to smoking bans and, I hate to say it, the fact that most such drunk playwrights are now British and they've done too much ecstasy in the 90s to think as clearly --they shall be nameless, the bobbleheads ('hic').

But even if we only had this one work, no matter how much tripe the Taylor-Burton pair bond may have served up in their onscreen time together, they'll always be forgiven, and rightly. Even if Woolf was the only film they ever made together they would deserve undying reverence, of the true king not bourgeois grant-bestowing style reverence, m'lord, but mud in the grindstone gears earth mother reverence.

Luckily they made one more film based on a good play together, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, and some decent camp, like Dr. Faustus and The Sandpiper. That's better than a child any day. Films are immortal and sometimes anamorphic, kids just get uglier, and then morph blurrily into teenagers. What if you have a son and it grows up... you know, drinking bergen? Hazmat crew, take me away!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Snap, went the dragon! THE SANDPIPER (1965)


I've finished off the last two films in the Taylor Burton set: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which I realized last night that I'd never seen before sober (I've seen it 10-20 times but never knew how it ended) and The Sandpiper - which I'd never seen at all, except in a Mad magazine parody collection, but had prejudged as being exquisitely dull as I couldn't even understand what was going on in the satire.

Turns out Mad needn't have bothered, because Sandpiper is pure hilarity all by itself. And  it is beautiful to look at. I can imagine being bored by it on pan and scan TV in faded colors, but the DVD is amazing - full widescreen anamorphic with eye-popping colors and plenty of time and space to use them. If, like me, you consider driving up from San Francisco through its winding treacherous cliff highway (101) curves the pinnacle of California dreaming, then you can finally unpack your duffel and book a room. Director Vincente Minnelli makes fine poetic use of ever crashing wave but adds other 'percs' as well, including the most highbrow camp dialogue I've personally ever heard. And I've heard (the) Boom!


Co-scripted by the great Dalton Trumbo, the story finds single free-spirit beatnik painter Taylor squaring off against married-repressed reverend Burton for the soul of Taylor's young wild child boy. She wants to keep the lad pure and unsullied by the system, but Burton and the authorities know that at some point every boy needs to get away from his mother and go to school, lest he wind up like Norman Bates, or worse --Oscar Madison in The Long Hot Summer.  Of course Dick and Liz fall in love in between child pop psychology-surf crescendos. Even though his wife is Eva Marie Saint, trying here to seem sexless --as if she ever could--Burton seems to prefer this unkempt (even slovenly) 'broad' of the sea. Taylor, for her part, already has a lover in the form of sculpted sculptor Charles Bronson, who wears very thin shirts and beach pants, so you can see all the sinews in his amazing body, and peak animal magnetism. Is Taylor out of her mind to prefer some self-hating cloth man even if Burton's voice is more mellifluous? In fact they're both out of their minds and personally I'd rather see Eva Marie Saint and Bronson hook up and leave the Burton-Taylor trainwreck to its 'social' drinking.

Ah, but back to the colors! There's a huge vase of flowers dead center in Taylor's cliff-side beatnik bungalow overlooking the sea. Minnelli, and DP Milton Krasner, and whomever authored the DVD, really make the colors on that bouquet POP out. And though the Burton-Taylor chemistry isn't at its full battling bacchanal beauty, if you want an idea of what constitutes giftedness with actors, compare the work Taylor and Burton do for Minnelli's Sandpiper and Mike Nichols' Woolf vs. their rather tepid, disinterested efforts in the other films of the set - The VIPs and The Comedians. It's the difference between night and day, or night and later that night. Clearly Minnelli and Nichols both took the time to access and cajole the best from their stars, while the other directors no doubt let their combined titanic alcoholic ego-romance tank their films' momentum as thoroughly as it tanked Cleopatra.


Piper doesn't even have to be good when the chemistry between this pair is in full flow the way it wasn't in The VIPs and The Comedians. There's a great scene where the two are gazing into each others' eyes, emoting and talking, and the wounded sandpiper that Liz saved earlier in the film comes flying in for a landing right on Liz's head! She doesn't even flinch! She just keeps staring into Dick's eyes, and for his part, even with that sandpiper there--maybe about to shit on her head, who knows?-- he doesn't freak out, just stays in the scene, fixed on her eyes like a hypnotist. Then after they kiss, she reaches up and cups the bird in her hand without even looking at it, and then lets it loose, saying in that languid half-to-herself Taylor style, "fly away, baby." Was this something they shot twenty takes of, just to get that damned bird to land on her head, or was it just a lucky accident that the pro thesps seized on? I spent the whole rest of the film just admiring the perfect nonchalant stillness with which these two lovers acted out their scene with this bird standing in Liz's wild hair. Then, later, when she chases ex-sugar daddy-cum-rapist Robert Webber out of the house with a hatchet, my heart was sealed.

Nonetheless I love what old Walter Chaw at Film Freak Central has to say:
it could've been an early and sharp indictment of the hippie culture instead of this relic of its brief vogue. (It's Myra Breckinridge in every way that matters--and if it's better, that's only because Rex Reed isn't in it.) When Laura goes off on an extended rant about the goodness of "The Natural," you cast a critical eye over her inch of pancake makeup and mascara, her endlessly-teased perm, and her carefully-organized collection of poly-blends, and wonder what anyone could've been thinking. Neutering Burton's force-of-nature virility (see how Burton-as-holy-man/rebel burns in Becket and especially Night of the Iguana) doesn't help the cause of Romanticist physical frankness--they would've done better switching the casting, putting Burton in the wild and Taylor in a straitjacket.
For all that, man, for all that, it's still swingin'. Mr. Chaw, that shit is stone cold hilarious and on point, but please don't dis a lady's lip rouge; chicks can espouse naturalism while smeared in make-up all they want; it's called third-wave feminism and it's a stone gas. Of course, I love Myra Breckenridge too. And Reed becomes Raquel fast enough that he's never too much of a dead weight, and it's got Mae West singing "Hard to Handle" in front of greased-down muscle boys. It's so good you're almost tempted to rent Sextette afterwards, but don't. Dear God, please don't. Boom will do just as well, or if you're really masochistic, Dr. Faustus. 

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Case of the Disappearing Accent: THE COMEDIANS (1967)


One thing I love about Elizabeth Taylor is how she can both coast and transcend her craft in a single scene. I've been watching the "other" films that come in the Taylor/Burton boxed set and man (the ones that aren't Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? What a tepid lot they are, too. Liz and Dick seem to saving their sparks for offscreen, if they had any left at the time. Sometimes there's still some blazing brilliant flashes of the Liz we all love from Suddenly Last Summer, and Giant. Sometimes she just seems zonked halfway to Hell. Either way, on Burton's end, there's just sputtering fumes. Was he saving his energy for Doctor Faustus (also '67), his big directorial debut (and swan song)?

Hell indeed, I've seen Woolf a zillion times and--along with Taming of the Shrew--have come to see it as the "tru-life" story of Dick and Liz, the snapshot from the drunken heights of that dynamic duo of titanic love. The other films in the set are the VH1 versions, the morning after; they're the bleary, hung-over Dick and Liz of the bloated studio system, a system they helped destroy with their initial collaboration, Cleopatra (1963). For The VIPS (also 1963), aka Grand Hotel while waiting around the VIP lounge at Heathrow International Airport, it seems like the screenwriter has gone off to look for a new job and forgot to tell the actors. Alone or in pairs they wander through expensive air terminal sets (and/or actual Heathrow) in search of love, directorial cues, and highballs... What they find is themselves, and obsequious airport receptionists.

A couple as coolly debauched as Dick and Liz could probably not exist in the films today, so their powerful chemistry and indulgent audience may seem as hard to fathom today as that of Martin and Lewis. The power-suit and baseball cap-wearing "industry" people would probably have a hard time getting either actor to agree to product positioning and/or not smoking. Plus, these days it's tough getting insurance for any film starring notorious drunks, and audiences are far less indulgent, and have quit smoking and drinking and telling lewd stories. Liz and Dick made apparently dozens of Giglis and Shanghai Surprises people dutifully came. The equivalent to the Dick and Liz pair bond today would probably be Courtney Love and Nick Nolte. If they were a couple, and maybe they should be, can you imagine it? And to have them in not just one disastrous film but dozens, with maybe one or two hits amongst dross like The Comedians? We'd love them all today, but poor Nick and Courtney wouldn't have a Chinaman's chance finding roles together in our less enlightened times. The 'bond' wouldn't go through. Recall that Courtney had to give daily urine tests to the insurance company stooges to play Woody Harrelson's junky wife in  People Vs. Larry Flynt. Which yes, makes no sense. Here the author sighed heavily, as some PC thug immediately called him to task for saying Chinaman.

But maybe that's for the best. I've only seen two of the films in this set, The VIPS and The Comedians (1967), and already I've grown unfathomably weary. In their romantic scenes together in Comedians--which apparently are the "meat of things" as far as box office allure--Dick and Liz have all the burning chemistry of two gin-soaked carpets. Burton usually sways or stands still and glowers under baggy Welshman's eyes; Liz angles her good side, emotes, sucks it in, flashes her cleavage and its all very adult, in the way that made adult synonymous with boring. One waits, in vain, for some of the fierce gutsy braying and brawling that makes Woolf so endlessly rewarding. Instead it feels like Dick and Liz are right there with you, too, dreaming of a script with decent writing, their youth, new livers, a writer of Edward Albee's stature (or even prime Graham Greene rather than this overheated Haitian turmoil).

 In that way it's fun for awhile, like meeting new people while you stand in line for a show, but it's not the show itself, and after an hour of waiting and hearing Dick and Liz bicker in front of you, you grow so suffused with world-weary ennui you give up and just go home. The Haitians are only too happy to escort you to the airport, and Liz and Dick can creep off to an air-conditioned bungalow.

But, what IS rare and precious in The Comedians is that Liz is working a German accent! It sounds more French than German, but Liz... with an accent! My ears perked up when I first realized she wasn't just doing a "character doing an accent" like the mannered way Martha might say "What a dump!" in Woolf.  The first scene with Dick, meeting after he gets off the flight to Haiti-- her accent is sensational, mein Herr! Later, it falls off a bit. She forgets she's doing one, then she picks it up where it left off, like a good book. But by then it's long been apparent that whatever fun Dick and Liz are having is off-screen. Did Burton forget he was allowed to smile? He cloaks his hangover in a smoke-yellowed veil of adult gravitas, just like any 60s dad who's given up trying to be a good husband and parent and resigned himself to his easy chair, his Larks, and his highballs, like me dear old dad... once he realized the 80s wasn't going away.


Ah, but 1967 - year of my own birth, that was a time. Easy Rider hadn't yet wiped the frozen martini smirk off Hollywood's stupid face. The last breath out of the pre-Easy star-studio system was still on inhale. In the end, it wasn't a gasp at all, as it turns out, but a long drunken smoker's wheeze. And for all that, Liz and Dick still got more class than all of New Hollywood put together. Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Those industry dorks in their baseball caps and crew jackets, that's who, or they ought to be. If Burton were alive today, there'd be some "Get the Guests" games playing, and no mistake.

Alas, he's not, and the best part of the Comedians turns out to be Lililan Gish, who has a few great scenes going ballistic on the sunglassed thugs of Papa Doc. God bless little children. They abide. And they are not hung over.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blocked by the Belle


I've been in a deep post-thanksgiving malaise, unable to write and everytime I turn around I'm remembering this weird scene from Luis Bunuel's BELLE DU JOUR (1967).

In it, our frigid would-be masochistic love slave, Severine (Catherine Deneuve) has been trying to warm up to the clients at the brothel where she's working during the afternoon, but so far no luck. She responds when they get rough, but then they back up and can't figure her out. So she can't quite get past her frigidity until the arrival of a strange, portly Asian man, played by Iska Kahn. This guy first shows her some weird box, that buzzes, and we never see what's in it. Kimberly Lindbergs at Cinebeats has some keen insight about it being a device imagined by the Marquis de Sade... but it's a pretty disturbing concept (Kimberly is more comfortable discussing it probably because she's not a guy).


Then he starts ringing a small bell, extending his arm out far from his ear, but intently listening to the chiming, his ear cocked comically to one side. Is he chasing the evil spirits out of the room? What's that bell about? All we know is, it amuses Severine. We actually see her smile, trying not to laugh, for the first time in the film. She brushes the bell away and puts her arms around this strange Asian man, in a mix of comradeship and affection.

The next time we see her, she's looking quite ravished. the maid comes in and offers her some solace, she sees blood on the sheets.  Severine doesn't want to hear it; she's lolling in debased contentment. "What do you know about it?" she asks.  She's found her delirious "Severine, your servant, comes in bells please don't forsake him" surrender.

Perhaps the bell is part of the De Sade canon of toys as well, hence the aforementioned line from the Velvet Underground's Venus in Furs, my all-time favorite song. Velvet Underground & Nico came out in 1967. Belle du Jour came out in 1967, and I came out in 1967. Together, the three of us were a dark counter-offer to the dawning hippy free love establishment. But even so, why does this scene stick in my mind in particular? The mixture of goofiness and sexuality? There might be some S/M connotation to all the weird boxes and bells, but if so, Severine is not afraid, only amused, her smile as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa's.

It would fit one of my theories about people with sexual hang ups being more "comfortable" with lovers of different races... the same way any repressed national culture is more open to radical ideas if they come from a foreigner (Hendrix in London, Picasso in Paris, Jane Campion in Australia, for example). This is all based on repression and our universal self-hatred, as when a parent is more likely to trust a complete stranger than their own child. Is that it? So is this a sign I should move to Berlin, where I imagine an artist of my unique stature might be respected instead of reviled? Who knows, maybe it's just the ringing of that infernal bell... Belle du jour!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leo, oh Leo...


"Only the fearful mistake asceticism for misery."

After reading that cheeky slam-down of Leo diCaprio in the Guardian last week, I've been musing on the effect of having "grown up boys" as men in our movies. I was trying to watch Eyes Wide Shut the other night, and I was really in the mood for it, but that god-damned Tom Cruise, his cocky snotty poise and posin' - he's just the sort of self-satisfied, over-compensating for his height, alpha male I may want doing my taxes but not at my birthday party. So why would I want to "identify" with him as a man lost in a world of privilege and ritual, where all the girls are beautiful and giddy from apparently rohibinal-spiked champagne, and the men stand very still and leer? Well, I wouldn't. And as in Xan Brooks article in the Guardian put it, I would also not want to identify with Leo as the undercover op in Body of Lies, as he races madly around some Middle Eastern neighborhood with his gun and his wispy beard and sunglasses, a righteous scowl on his baby face as he goes sidestepping the inner bully, the inner torturer and all the other, natural antithetical choices that would make his character's sulky masochist Oscar-worthy instead of just yawn-worthy. Like Tom, he's stuck in the banal post-PC haze of white male guilt. Sulk too long and you forget there are "mysterious powers" that come once you are too old to give a shit, and the most important rule - audiences don't trust a man who shows the world a naive earnest face - a real man always acts tougher than he is, a scam artist only goes vice versa. Hollywood being so skin-deep, forgets there's many layers and even children know how to relate past the surface.

Leo in person at least knows how to have fun on a bender. I used to love to read about his drunken exploits in the Upper West Side, howling outside the swanky brownstone high rises and singing and otherwise venting his spleen upon the trying-to-sleep so they can wake up and enjoy their Sunday Times couples of privilege. Why does he have to be so fucking sober in his film roles, then?

One of the many beautiful things Mad Men does is wise you up to ways in which media manipulates and creates your tastes, the way it leads you astray from who you truly are until you're so deep in the woods you foolishly think you have no choice but to keep following their will-o-wisp cigarette tip. Take that concept and apply it to the pretty boy actors who hit paydirt around their early twenties because they can still pass for teenagers. They're adenoidal; they don't have deep voices. Maybe they had sinister stage moms who purposely stunted their growth with drugs and starvation to keep them child stars as long as possible? Or maybe that's just they way they are: eternally boyish. But as they approach their thirties, somethings got to give. Either our conception of a mature male has to change or they have to step down of the pedestal and let deep-voiced guys take over, guys like Vin Diesel. Naturally these boy actors don't want to be removed from the dining car of the gravy train! We can't blame them, so much as urge them to not rig the passenger list unfairly to the extent that they warp future generations of men whose circumstance demands they look in movies for their role models. These men are standing in the Leo car looking across The Departed at the Jack Nicholson car, and they're afraid to make the jump.

Meanwhile, bring us new Lee Marvins! New William Holdens and Robert Ryans, George C. Scotts and Robert De Niros, Gene Hackmans and so forth.

There are of course actors with great beauty who are also powerhouse actors, fearless explorers of their own freaked out souls, dudes able to method act the roof off and yet not fall into the pit of camp, never make the mistake of thinking they need to "send a message" rather than just digging so deep into the character that the message shines directly into people's unconscious minds where it gestates and shapes their conception of self long into the future, as in good literature.

What kind of roles should Leo be playing? Villains! Or "complex" characters. How about a CIA operative who is a sado-masochistic guy who giggles and burns his money? See, that's why Heath Ledger was where Leo wants to be. Leo's still looking for his lionizing. Ledger learned the golden rule of lionization: you gots to lionize your own damn self.

Jared Leto even tried it for Number 23. Brad Pitt had his Kalifornia. Johnny Depp has always had it but it strutted it most astutely in Ed Wood and Before Night Falls. Imagine our Leo trying to do something like that? Tom Cruise tried to be "bad" as a hitman (Collateral) or the deluded Bob Mackey (Magnolia), but each time could only do variations of his golden overachieving narcissist. Leo hasn't even gone that far, unless you think the stealth self-love of The Aviator counts, or his self-caricaturizing in Woody Allen's Celebrity.

Leo could access it when he was young playing young, as in the Basketball Diaries. Now we need the real Jim Carroll, the real Howard Hughes, even the real Leo would be good, but who is he? Why do all his heroes have to be so adverse to the violence they commit? Why can't he be like Gene Hackman in The French Connection, this tightly wound sadistic freak who loves to fuck up bad guys? What's wrong with that? You can see how it is when a real man like Russell Crowe enters the Leo-verse, he just makes fun of it. My favorite part of Body of Lies is the way Leo's two "adult" mentors, Crowe and the Syrian intelligence official (Mark Strong) both call Leo's character by pet names like "Buddy" and "Darling." They treat him like a little brother who they want to make cool. Maybe I read that in the films because I have that same disease? What is that disease called when you're the older brother? The perennially trying to make your little brother cooler or at least get him to stop following you around all the time and cramping your style disease? I got that disease, so maybe it warps my perceptions of Leo, as he is blonde and younger then me, like my little brother. Just warning you... it is thanksgiving.

I dig Leo, though. In that photo up there you can dig that he's not afraid to hold his drink and Kate Winslet and beam at the camera in drunken good humor. He and Kate are clearly great friends and he has a contented look on his face like a man should have when he's drinking good gin and Kate Winslet is in his arms (read that last sentence in a Hemingway voice). I know Leo can play something else other than these tortured insiders with the wispy beards, he's a helluva decent actor... how about playing some giggling hood ala Richard Widmark? Or a psychotic narcissistic Wall Street bully like Christian Bale? Look at how Matt Damon did a number on our expectations of Matt Damon in The Talented Mister Ripley? If Leo did that role he'd have his writers crank the "tortured soul" part up to eleven, edit out the Chet Baker and amp up the scenes of being alone in the bathroom, crying and changing clothes. Last I heard Leo was optioning the rights to the Ian Fleming biography and I guess the point is, I want Leo to let his love light shine and to do that right you got to go into the valley of death we all gotta cross! He needs to take a year off to wander the wilderness and work on his beard, to surrender to the dark side. He needs to let himself drown in a world of pain, travel not into his character's heart of darkness but his own heart of darkness. Until then his heart of darkness gonna be a little brother heart, a second-hand aping of a true heart kids' mannerisms. Of course I haven't seen Blood Diamond yet, and my therapist just told me I should see it before I go shooting my mouth off about Leo. Then again, who am I hurting? Leo? He'll never read this. He'll never even hear about it... anyway, even if you tell him he won't ever believe I don't love him.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Veronica Lake Effect


What is it about Veronica Lake that makes her so completely unlike all other 1940's blonde femme fatales? Something in her gaze reflects a sweet tender concern; something in her voice casts a gossamer warmth--the cinematic equivalent of a warm shoulder to weep yourself to sleep into-- even as her aura, face and beautiful blonde hair freeze you where you sit like a blast of Arctic air.

So many of her directors seemed determined to hide her beautiful hair in strict buns, or pulled under stupid hats and turbans. Perhaps her hairstyles reflected the tenseness and repression of the times. Veronica Lake's long blonde hair shone like a moon that could turn the tides, and so was kept locked up tight in buns of steel and bizarre hats. Repression hates changing tides. When Lake's hair was free it could wash all the sins of the depression and the war away, as in the amazing bathrobe scene of Sullivan's Travels (which is so aptly captured in Starlet Showcase). But when her hair was hidden, Alan Ladd sulked and Brian Donlevy and Joel MaCrea shot pained glances.

If my text is incoherent, forgive me. I've got a bad cold and am delirious... which I don't mind a bit with the cinematic ghost of Veronica Lake hovering above me on the TV screen. But what is it about her? Her voice always seems distant and far away, as if it was dubbed in later by the ghost of a flower. Rene Clair must have tried to access this supernatural power in I Married a Witch, because the film seems primed to take off into some alternate dimension. It never succeeds totally, but it spawned that TV show, Bewitched. Goddamn Dick York for his part in emasculating the male ego ideal of this great nation! Frederic March is at least a stronger force than Jimmy Stewart in Bell Book and Candle. Kim Novak has some of this weird Veronica Lake magic, but it's not the same brand.

Do you, dear reader, dare assume there are no such things as witches? Veronica Lake was a witch!!!! Maybe that's why she's such perfect company in the fires of a late November fever!

P.S. Here's a true fact about me: Some of my relatives (on my father's side) were tried and hung as witches in Salem, Mass, back in the day (Mary Easty was hung; Mary Edwards escaped). My great grandmother, who recently died at 107, and my grandmother, now 94, both have inherited some of this weird magical daemonic power that Veronica Lake had. Is this why we like some stars over others? Genetics? We feel emotions through cinema's stars as if they were vessels, proxies; stand-ins for our dream selves. Now let's presume that, on an unconscious level, you can connect yourself through the past to these moving images of people long dead... is that not itself a form of black magic? To connect your soul with that of Veronica Lake is to merge with the past, facilitating not just the common shallow depth unconscious drive of returning to the womb, but the deep end unconscious drive of merging with the womb behind your mom's womb, back further still, behind you great grandmother's womb, to all-seeing I am Womb, from which all beings come, and from which comes birth, thought, expression, action, life, death, retention, release, all just facets of the same ever-sparkling tinsel-toed diamond?

Imagine your own ancient ancestors who lived before telephones and electricity -- what would they think if they could see you now? They couldn't see you if they tried, and oh how they tried. They tried with crystal balls but they couldn't look that far ahead. But we can see them, all the way back when they were young and pretty. Just as I can connect to the gossamer image of Veronica Lake through my fevered viewing of This Gun for Hire, so we can see our own ancestors, and marvel at the pre-digital age. And if this is true, it is also and obviously true that future generations of ourselves are right now looking back at us, peering through the silvery veils of screening room time to marvel at the age of tools and celluloid and pixelated flesh; a time before all was pure thought; a time when man and machine were separate entities; a time before the cleansing hand of 2012 came and washed it all away until there was nothing, just the eternal blazing brilliance of her blond and wavy hair, the peaceful calm stillness of a Veronica Lake.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Miss Moneypenney and her Big Bond Phallus


An example of a character having innate understanding of Lacan's "impossibility of desire" can be found in the James Bond series' Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and her office flirtations with James Bond (various). Come along with me on this structural adventure as we see just how and why.

Note that the regular flirtation of Bond and Moneypenny begins with her feigned anger at him for arriving "late." No matter when Bond arrives, she makes it seem as if he is late and that M is angry at him. But this anger is "pretend" for her and for M - for Bond, the locus of their combined desire, can never be anything but "on" time. M will usually berate him on some minor point before laying out the details of his case. Q also pretends to be annoyed with Bond's childishness, but at the same time, entrusts him with millions of dollars of high-falootin' gadgetry.

Moneypenny sets herself up as an upper-middle class spinster, pining for a secret agent who prefers more exotic (richer), younger women. Moneypenny is his "fall back" gal; he professes to love only her, implying he's sleeping with everyone but her! And if she pushes the issue, he instantly propositions her: "Drinks, my place. Tonight." But she ignores his request; sure that he is not being serious. Between the two of them is an implicit understanding regarding the parameters of their pretend courtship. If she took him seriously, bad blood would instantly erupt. Alas, in our post-PC era, no such parameters can really be established, so the fine art of fake flirting is all but gone. Too bad, because it's great practice... the pair switch role from pursuer to pursued on a regular basis, each claiming they pine for the other, and so forth.

Thus, Moneypenny's desire for James is innately dependent on his withholding of that desire's gratification. Such examples occur throughout cinema as well as in life, but this one is worth noting since it occurs in such ubiquitous regularity. This regularity itself makes it a fine example of the Lacanian phallus. Bond "owns" the phallus, as the ultimate "one who enjoys"-- but Moneypenny is the one who truly owns its lack - as in understanding that having access to the phallus will not prevent its lack, but will in fact destroy the position from within which that lack originates.

Part of this essential dance belongs to M, and his presence on the intercom - he is always listening in... and interjects his "Will you please skip the customary interplay, Miss Moneypenny?" M is the perfect momentary definition of the Big Other, the ultimate signifier for whom the dance is performed.

A telling acknowledgment that her buffering is no accident can be found in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when Bond dictates his resignation before leaving her office. Moneypenny, instead of typing what he tells her, types that he has requested two weeks leave instead. Thus, she saves the entire triad of her, M and Bond. M even acknowledges this (after Bond has gone of course) by saying (over the intercom of course) "what would I do without you, Miss Moneypenny?"M understands her immaculate mediating between the phallus and its locus of imaginary enjoyment with the Non du pere or "no of the father" represented by the Big Other m.

Indeed, what would any of us do without the Miss Moneypennys of the world, gamely keeping the ball in play by "pretending" to want the phallus, even as they realize they can never have it? The world would resign, and no one would ever get laid. Moneypenny may or may not want to get laid, but her true lay, Bond, would be a disappointment, so she is better off enjoying the wanting of him. If they let themselves, if we let ourselves, we could grow obsessional and mad about it. Don't we all have some secret hidden love? If we don't keep vigilant, this unrequited love could grow to a full-blown obsession, drug addiction, stalking, restraining orders, assault, all follows. By pretending to like that which we actually do like, we save ourselves from having to actually have it. Maybe if we have it, we would just be... disappointed. Isn't that the fate of so many stars with their groupies? No matter how earth-shattering the anonymous sex might or might not be, it can't beat the image. Imagine if they hooked up and Bond had to slink past Moneypenny everytime, in guilty silence, on his way to M's office?


If you can embrace this secret you will be a James Bond yourself! By pretending to be "the one who enjoys" you become an authority on enjoyment itself. Sounds simple, doesn't it? We're all conditioned to act on our wants and desires without thinking, to consider them some kind of holy writ. But be not fooled! Desire is nothing more than the death drive with a fancy dress on. Follow anything too far and you won't find your way back. Lou Reed said it best "You know some people don't have a voice with / that they can even call their own. / So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be, they follow it. / You know, it's called 'bad luck.'"

And which Bond girl is the one who gets to stay in the picture after the babe du jour has come and gone? Even after Bond himself is replaced, several times over? Lois Maxwell! Moneypenny! This is of course stating the obvious, but if you use your realization of this in yourself as a tool for conscious awakening, you will have the last laugh, every time, just like her.
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