Sunday, January 20, 2008

J'taime, Charlotte Gainsbourg: The good, the bad and the ugly-sexy

I love Charlotte Gainsbourg for her work in SCIENCE OF SLEEP, which I will insist once again is the CITIZEN KANE of the 21st century. Existing as an object of affection/alienation for the Confused Male Artist (CMA), she alternates adorable vulnerability, brokenhearted anguish, and swift vanishing into herself, oscillating from one to the other with a wondrous believability that you will perhaps only recognize if you've ever dated anyone who went off their bi-polar meds suddenly and without telling you. The daughter of perennially debauched and ugly-sexy Gallic musical genius Serge Gainsbourg and model Jane Birkin, Charlotte inherited enough of both their genes to be the supreme goddess of the ugly-sexy.

The sexy ugly is, by the way, that which all of us secretly prize more than the straight up or "ugly-less" sexy, which can be a bit bland after a bit (and tiresome, as you are always fending off other suitors). Gainsbourg has the face that alternately attracts and estranges. When there's the whole world in someone's eyes it can't all be pretty; you see a fractured, feral, fecund humanity that's more beautiful for its weakness than a thousand watt supermodel smile. That was the same strange allure her dearly beloved late father possessed in such ungainly abundance.

I mention this all to point out how much cooler the French are in areas of sex and attraction than we are in the states. They have the most beautiful girls in the world in Paris, but whom do they most desire? Charlotte Gainsbourg. (I'm listening to her album 5:55 right now, and right as I wrote that she whispers, "Nothing is taboo / here on the cutting edge of science.") I mention this because I see how in this country we flounder without tradition. We have to go looking to the movies and magazines to tell us what we deserve in aesthetically pleasing mates. Few in the USA's singles pool seem to realize the importance of finding beauty in those we hook up with, as opposed to those we don't. Though it exists worse here than anywhere, in America we stay blind to "attractiveness" class distinctions, this being a country built on equal ground. Thus do all poor ugly dudes think some hottie is theirs for the waiting, while the big ugly girl meant for them is shunned, and so both sleep forever alone. The French would never even consider such pointlessly self-inflicted abstinence. It would be unpatriotic! Do Americans really think anyone respects them one way or another for putting out or not putting out? Watch RULES OF THE GAME closely and note how all the classes co-exist and get it on without feelings of shame or regret or envy. Once you have a class system you function happily, because your naturally occurring anger and angst has something to rebel against, n'cest pas? In the states the only thing we have to hate is ourselves... and the people who are too stuck up to like us are considered true friends, while the geeks who love us are shunned like lepers.

I was lucky enough to be a kid in the 1970s, and to reap the benefits of a social fabric that was at the height of its permissiveness. Then the AIDS epidemic sprang through that party like a police dragnet. Now we can't imagine sex without guilt and anxiety, without labels and judgment, and bothersome condoms, can't imagine sex as just a natural outgrowth of love for all mankind, nothing to get hung about: strawberry fields forever not strawberry strawberry is the neighborhood ho. I know lots of people who were molested as kids, apparently in the 1980s, but I personally don't think victim mentality must--by some moral pejorative--be associated with casual sex. It wasn't in the 1970s or even 80s! Still, one person's repetition-compulsion disorder is another person's Don Juanism, as long as its consensual. What's the worst that can happen? Death? Welcome to the game, moron; you got to pay to play. Go complain to your mom if you don't want to die --she's the one who ensured you will. You got born to die and there's never been a better time / then right now. Moms aren't any closer to the universal truth than Manson or the Moonies. Let it all go, and realize your only error is the error of buying into the Stockholm syndrome-enforced notion you ever made an error in the first place.

What's ruining the fabric of American dating and sexuality? KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD, that's what. No, wait.. wait, here me out. These sex comedies, man, wherein the dudes are all cast to look "normal," i.e. ugly, but the chicks they score are total foxes. How's a kid taking notes at these films going to deal when a girl comparable to him in looks sees fit to bust a move on him some day if he's lucky? When a beautiful face is made-up, lit and photographed by experts with endless bank, ain't no normal girl gonna compete.

This has all been written before, but it's interesting how the country with the biggest clout in fashion is also the one who can produce an irresistible chick like Charlotte Gainsbourg. What we are producing in this country is a generation of overweight illiterates conditioned through media saturation to have no tolerance for "beauty deficiency" in their women and so ignoring the girl next door in favor of the super airbrushed bimbos of Maxim. We can stare at the big ugly face of that fat kid in SUPERBAD on a giant screen no problem, but why can't he be paired up with a commensurately fat ugly girl who got lots of personality? When's these geniuses behind FREAKS AND GEEKS gonna learn to do right by their ungainly but goodhearted women? What the fuck, man...

In the Muslim society, the women keep their faces covered, so each man only knows the face of one woman, his wife (and family members). There is no one to compare them to on the street. You can't get envious that Hahmid has a hotter wife than you, because you don't know what Hahmid's wife looks like. Not that I condone the veil, but it's an interesting comparison to our culture where the guy can't look away from the computer screen even to say hello to his girlfriend. Of course if you're a 6+ on the 10 scale in the western way of doing things, you'll probably get by, but the below 5 crowd is stuck. They got the media keeping them from getting with each other, destroying their conception of themselves and others, so they genuinely believe, on some level, that Christie Brinkley is coming soon if they just hang on and keep the piano tuned. What they need to do is get together and watch Earnest Borgnine in MARTY. But they won't - they'll watch PROJECT RUNWAY and drift off into the wasteland of commodified desire. They'll sublimate and consume, after all, we need them to; they are the very MATRIX-ish batteries that power the wattage of big capitalism.

So in the meantime, grasp the enigmatic grace that is Charlotte Gainsbourg: she is the key to set us all free from the tyranny of conventional beauty.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

She was some kind of anima

I never knew Vampira in person. But I can write about what she meant to me as an anima. Jerry C. Kutner writes that he once gave Maira Nurmi a copy of Jung, and she realized "I am an anima." What better anima for the growing consciousness of any lad drawn towards the dark, monsters, old horror movies, death, sex, sex and death entwined in one dark goddess? In real life a true Hollywood legend who palled around with Brando and James Dean, starred in Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space, and introduced the concept of a "horror hostess" later stolen by Elvira, she was some kind of an anima indeed. She was a myth brought to life, which is something Brando and Dean both embodied as well, the rare artist who is able to subsume their own ego into the collective and become archetypal myths while living... to become themselves as art.

You can see some of that in Daneil Day Lewis' role in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. That's the closest thing to real mythmaking the screen has seen since James Dean, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Vampira. Nurmi was the most mythic perhaps... a figure that looms large as inspiration behind the scenes, like Neal Cassiday in the work of the beats. A true pioneer of Goth, she stripped the dull patriachal rationalizations away from our favorite black and white horror films, she became a context through which to enjoy them, she embodied all that was best in them, that Kali archetypal force, that ground zero of desire, where sex and death, desire and fear, swirl together into one 17 inch waist.

Today we lost a great spirit

In memoriam:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Notes on the Atomic Bomb

Here are stills from my experimental video version of Lonely Christopher's production of Gertrude Stein's "Notes on the Atomic Bomb," starring Mandy Richichi - recorded live at Pratt's Memorial Hall, 11-07. A production of the Pratt Institutionalized Theater... and so on.

The video will follow directly. This is just to show you where it's headed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Great Nations of Europe

"Hide your wives and daughters
Hide your groceries too
The great nations of Europe coming through." --Randy Newman (Bad Love)

If you're as art-drunk from the greatness that is THERE WILL BE BLOOD as I am, then man, how  about that raw roar of actorly masculine power that was Daniel Day Lewis? It can invogorate me just by thinking of it. So if you're like me you're now thinking you need to see it again, but Union Square theater is a freakin' smelly wombfull of NYU film students, and it's likely to be months before it comes out on DVD. What's a jaded urbanite pushing into middle age--but hip and agorophobic-- to do?

I don't blame those kids though. I'd be there every day. That movie has all the dark power of the father you needed but never got; and you're getting it now. You drink from it, it's nourishment from the father to the son, on a mythic level. This movie fills a void that's been gaping in the collective consciousness since they laughed the 1980's men's movement back into the shrubbery.

The trick to it, why it succeeds so well, is the father is not good, but he's inspiring anyway. He has the thing we lost as men somewhere back around the turn of the century, and almost got back in the 1970s, and we need it. We need it to undo the damage this dark father has done. We need the guts to look down the black pit and make snap decisions; we need access to our inner hellfire, the valve that once is open unleashes a geyser of flame that only stops with more violence.

When Danny D. Lewis feeds that kid this glass of milk and whiskey, he holds it at crotch level, but it's not some weird incest symbol, it's a freakin' Aborigine initiation; I could tell you what they do, but I'd have to kill you. Suffice it to say, this is as close as I've seen. And I've been writing about this subject for years! I've been sifting through cinema like a miner for bits of gold, the gold from the shattered grail. The return of the king isn't some hobbit thing, it's a black hole being filled; it's the black hole left by JFK's assassaination. We've had almost nothing but Macbeths upon the throne ever since. The return of the true king will be bloody, but this movie announces it's coming. Arthur! King of the Britains!

Like all our best movies, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a myth come to life. There's not a drop of sex in the film and in the total power of that decision, Anderson throws down a gauntlet that makes all these "a little sex in it" pictures of foppish men wooing dizzy gals cringe in the corner. Keep drinking, boys!

I forgot where I was for a minute. oh yeah: If you're left hungry for BLOOD's dark satiric truth telling, may I recommend Randy Newman's "Bad Love"? With chipper songs about 16th century slaughter, Karl Marx, and the general injustices and humiliations of living under someone else's power, it's the sort of thing that can keep that candle alive.

Man, how about that roar of flame that was Daniel Day Lewis?!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Morning Morning

This is "Morning Morning" an avant-garde play by Robert Snyderman, staged at the debut evening of the Pratt Institutionalized Theater in Brooklyn, Nov. 2007. Starring: Mandy Richichi, Robert Snyderman, Katie Przybylski, Scott Vornado. Producer: Jody Buchman; Special thanks: Gabe Sorell, MaryKate Chillemi, Rae McIntyre, Lonely Christopher, Joshua Furst, Knina Strikheartz, and Hillary Frisbie. Music by Chanelle Bergeson, Fareed Sajan, Cartoonland

Edited, filmed and effected by me - you can dig the overlapping happy accidents of random meaning generation and color symbolism... if you dare!

Part Two:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

TEN BEST DVDs of 2007

1. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1972) - dir: Alejandro Jodorowsky. -- All the rest of this boxed set really does is show you the genius Jodorowsky's progress towards this amazing film. EL TOPO was the original midnight classic, but it looks like just a dry run compared to the wild LSD-saturated brilliance of HOLY MOUNTAIN. Basically a surrealist exercise centering around a hippie thief who gets mistaken for Jesus and eventually comes into contact with a really out-there sorcerer who takes him on a journey to said mountain, it's pointless to describe the plot further. Sometimes the sophomoric "penis and vagina" symbolism gets old, but regardless, wade it through and eventually you'll want to wade into his even earlier, cruder works. But if you want to be frugal, you really could Netflix the others; HOLY MOUNTAIN however is a must own, if only for the beautiful flower entrails and war toys. If I'd seen it 20 years ago I'd be a different person now. It was worth the wait though, as I'm sure it never looked better than it does projected on my groovy canvas screen. No matter how many times I see it over the coming years, I can't imagine THE HOLY MOUNTAIN ever getting boring.

2. The 3 PENNY OPERA (1929) Dir. - G.W. Pabst. If ever there were a time and place where decadence truly reigned supreme, it would be post-WWI, pre-WWII Berlin. And here we have a great cross section of German filmwerkers and actors all seething with that mix of Teutonic health, righteous arrogance and truly decadent relish for vice, corruption and pleasures of the flesh, all tempered with Bertolt Brecht's acidic worldview. There's a feeling of revolution and dehumanization under the heel of industry like all good expressionist works of the period, but Brecht (and Pabst who later had to wrest control of the screenplay) also keeps the existential derring-do and free-spiritedness of John Gay's original. It's the sort of winking gallows humor and anarchic good spirit that would live on through the Marx Bros, the Goon Show, John Lennon and Richard Lester - and hence there's music, lots of great music from Kurt Weil: "Mack the Knife" of course plays uber alles but the highlight is Lotte Lenya singing "Pirate Jenny."

3. THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Dir. Alfred Hithcock
Kudos to Criterion for going ahead and re-releasing improved versions of their earlier discs this year. In addition to LADY there was THE THIRD MAN and M. I can vouch for the new THIRD MAN looking pretty nifty, but it always looked good. THE LADY VANISHES, on the other hand, always looked pretty bad. A public domain wreck with a hissy soundtrack and fade-to-white blurs, it was a foggy mess that the previous Criterion edition tried real hard to clear up. They did the best they could but with this new double disc all other versions recede into the distance. Adding to the allure is a second disc with CROOK'S TOUR, a sort-of sequel starring the two chaps who are always on about cricket through the main attraction. I took a peak at it so I can at least tell you it looks sharp, but as I say, the real corker is LADY, who finally sparkles like a shiny new farthing: the fur coats glisten and the sound of the steam whistle rings clear and proud. Now if Criterion will just pick up the slack and dare to do what all the other companies are too lazy too: clean up all the public domain British Hitchcock and give us equally zesty transfers of currently dust-caked gems like SECRET AGENT, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and YOUNG AND INNOCENT.

4. THEY LIVE BY NIGHT / SIDE STREET - the first of the Warner Brothers Film Noir sets was packed with classic gold; the second two were mixed bags of b-filler and minor gems. Volume Four got it oh-so-right, doubling the films, two on each single-sided DVD, and delivering the goods as far as releasing only great (or at least riveting) crime films. Most notable: the double feature of Farley Granger- Cathy O'Donnell pics: THEY LIVE BY NIGHT and SIDE STREET. To watch a beautifully restored print of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT is to understand why the French New Wave fell over itself over old Nicholas Ray. And I never understood Farley Granger's appeal before-- having only seen him cling to his foolish morals in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. After digging his weird electric chemistry with the feral young Cathy O'Donnell, I'm a straight man swooning.

5. MATADOR (Almodovar Box)
I was itching and scratching to finally see Almodovar's amazingly lurid MATADOR in US DVD release, and now, after my heartache was all mended and I'd moved on, Viola! This nine-disc set includes not only MATADOR but LAWS OF DESIRE, FLOWER OF MY SECRET and a bitch-slap-fest of others. 

6. PERFORMANCE (1968) - Everyone remembers this as the one with Mick Jagger mixing it up with James Fox. They're both great, but what the widescreen brilliance of this DVD reveals is an amazing set design, and the great overload of sexual-intellectual current that is Anita Pallenberg. This is the chick that steered the Stones from being skiffle-nosed punters to being the toast of cool 60s London. First Anita duded up Brian Jones, then when he couldn't keep the pace, she dumped him for Keith. She was dating Keith while sleeping with Mick in this film. Only God and her dealer know what she was on during the shoot, but she's blazing, sexy and brilliant. Clear-eyed views into a persona-warp of this magnitude don't happen often. Thank god this one was saved from the producer anxiety scissor and censorial fuzz.

7. W.C. FIELDS BOX Vol. 2 - It's great to finally see POPPY for the first time, too bad it's such a bupke. At least it's got a talking dog! And the great line of wisdom from Fields' soused croquet playing carny to his adopted daughter who turns out to be the heir, etc: "Poppy," he says. "Never give a sucker an even break."

8. UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984) - John Huston. Even a fearless death-eyed drunk like John Huston clearly didn't quite now how to bring fellow drunk Malcolm Lowry's harrowing novel to the screen: moments of chilly alcoholic embarrassment and rationalization are treated as if Merchant Ivory auction items, with lavish attention to period detail and all sorts of blazing symbolism. Finney is dynamite though, and the film is better seen under the influence, as I hazily recall. It's steeped in death.

9. LA CAJONE DEL KUBRICK STANLEY - Pointless to write about this in just one blurb. It would take whole sites of furious scribble! There's nothing sober one up... than beer. Oh wait, that's the other movie.

10. FORD AT FOX - This is important too, though the more I see of Ford's films the more I realize that he's the culprit behind American society's double-faced accommodation of alcoholic macho behavior and shameless heartstring tugging. See the accompanying documentary to learn what a mean drunk he was! But all is forgiven with the sterling brilliance of his best Fonda work, such as: MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, GRAPES OF WRATH and now, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (though Claudette Colbert is clearly uncomfortable in her frilly bonnet and technicolor.)

Did I forget anyone? So sorry! Runners up include of course the 10 best films of 2007 nominees, not included here for sake of not boring them who read lots of film blogs.

Special shout out to the under-served BLACK SNAKE MOAN, however. One day that's gonna be "the" American Christmas movie, you wait and see. Even if there aint no Xmas in it, it's a gift from all cinema to all us sinners! Hallelujah!
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