Tuesday, December 28, 2010
ACIDEMIC TOP TEN 2010
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Saturday, December 25, 2010
Acidemic Xmas Special: Santa Vs. Lacan
Ho Ho Ho! And Merry Xmas. Via Lacan's tenet of the objet petit a, Erich in claymation explains why no present can compete with its wrapped potential, for desire's fulfillment is never the energy equivalent of its unfulfilled state. So give up seeking gratification and find fulfilment in the spirit of Xmas, and booze!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Ms. Icarus Risen: BLACK SWAN
Kiss Me Deadly (1957) happened to be on TCM as I was suiting up to go see Black Swan at the Brooklyn Academy of Music today, and something I hadn't noticed before caught my attention: the "Swan Lake"-ish classical background in the scene where Ralph Meeker rummages through Chloris Leachman's boarding house room. Coincidence?
Then I got home, The Eye remake starring Jessica Alba was on Lifetime: Jessica Alba looking in the mirror and seeing someone looking back who, while a lot like her--hot, damaged and mildly Mexican--is not her. Coincidence, tambien?
There was a moment in the crowded matinee BAM theater when the black swan Portman looked down at me with malevolent intensity (I sat in the fourth row center) and her eyes were like two white opals, her eyes they were like two white opals, coming together in a shaman bouquet and I thought of how weird I'd felt all last week while sick and hallucinating and possessed with a medicine-spiked serenity, focus, stillness and the ability to listen to Patti Smith's "Birdland" on endless repeat. The black swan of Birdland possessed me through the miracle of fever dreams, down on that New England farm, now walking down 5th Avenue towards Atlantic-Barclay Center. I'll go up. Or down. Don't give a shit for my feet have wings like a florist.
Movie audiences these days can drive me nuts with nonstop blue lights of cell phones and people whispering loudly but I can hear every word --but this time--emboldened--I merely hissed, like a swan might at a tourist without breadcrumbs (but who still wanted pictures) --and, having so hissed-- I let it go. They may have yelled the whole time I wouldn't have noticed after that, for I'd spoken up. I'd done my part. I felt the liberation and the intensity of the swan (along with the DXM) My insane rage at their uncouth bourgeois unconsciousness brought me closer to the Blanche Dubois-meets-Ms. 45 gonesville of Portman! Portman! Bravissima!
I could go off in multi-hued directions about Black Swan in comparison with Aronofsky's last film, The Wrestler (see "Mess with the Horns"): together they are the his and her fictional artist career capstones, Oscarbait elegies to artists caught in amber at that pivotal acrobat swing from the arms of Ben Vereen to Jessica Lange's in All that Jazz (1979). They are Icarus--amber-frozen in the Led Zeppelin Swan Song label instant--the war-face grin of true freedom and anticipation affixed, dissolving like wax in the blazing sun, like the final mylar shield between the priceless comic book and the greasy thumbs of gravity's unclaimed child. They move beyond viewer and screen so that even the distractions become part of the whole--the screen in front of you, the seats below you and the Exit sign behind you--even the blue cellphone glow and whispers of the annoying latecomers--it all incorporates beautifully into the complex soundscape of scratching black swan wings fluttering like the rain of pine cones on ANTICHRIST's tin roof. The
of feathers and clatter of feet on squeaky floors, the horse-feather hoofs of long-maned and nice-legged ponies and cute girls in raincoats and blonde bobs--one dead, one missing-- one masturbating while her hysterical stage mom pounds on the door, boggling Mike Hammer's sadistic mind in KISS ME DEADLY colors; the beeping of its hideous heart-monitor and the applause of the crowd. As Smith's song goes, I'll go up /up / up / I'll go up.
Is Aronofsky the Patti Smith, then, of his generation, and Swan his Horses? Going fearless into the two white opals whiteness of credits with nary a pause of regret or doubt, at the end I burst into slow applause a few seconds as wild applause rang out on screen, and the people around me started to applaud by reflex, and then caught themselves--shot me waves of accusation in their gun-like glances. Why do we applaud in movies that aren't premieres, i.e when cast and crew aren't there to bow? Are we applauding ourselves for 'getting' the morbid black comic gut punch of it all? Are we applauding because our moms would hate it? To salute the projectionist for keeping it all in focus? No, we're applauding because we've forgotten we're watching a movie, and so we've shared a collective dream; we're applauding the machine because we hear the applause in the sound mix and we are trained to respond. We applaud because finally we're in the movie, too. That's how Aronofsky tricks us, and it's the best of tricks, the trick of only the greatest art, where it bleeds out of the screen and all over your lap, then follows you out the door, precedes you like a giddy, tumbling herald.
As I walked out of the BAM and headed up towards Park Slope again I felt free, the reality behind the screen, the audience of the world in rapt awe looking up at me, and me swimming through a thin walkway past the godawfulness of the still-under-construction Barclay Center, feeling safe in coat and iPod against onrushing lights and tires up Flatbush avenue past desperate storefront Xmas lights, the diva swan sculpture chrysalis-talizing into Sofia Coppola twirling the ribbon in Spike Jonze's acrobatics video for that Chemical Brothers song whoisthisdoin'thissynthetictype-a-alpha-beta psychedelicfunkin? Coppola's trophy case the same as that Buffy the Vampire episode with the cheerleader mom witch getting trapped, a la bruja en ámbar... in her own trophy after trying to literally live through her daughter. Hershey as the mom with no life but to micro-manage her tortured daughter's each breath, Norma Bates harming the fly, the filly... Sophia Coppola going on to direct a film about suicidal virgins - "Cecilia was the first to go." Trip Fontaine reaching through the suffocating lather of Catholicism that binds them only to run after mistaking orgasm/conquests' hollow aftermath panic for a real emotion; Sinead O'Connor ripping her papal way to persecuted freedom from popularity on SNL; Tyra Banks looking through light blue cellular eyes back out the TV at the pictures of her model contestants behind you on the wall; Annie Hayworth's bird-beak-busted skull eye sockets hidden by picket fences in THE BIRDS; Marlene Dietrich covered in ink black feathers slashing the Shanghai Express screen open with her swan talons, letting the rotten corpse fruit come sagging out.
|Virgin Suicides, The|
And if death not ends it, why bother starting? As Oscar Jaffe said: the sorrows of life are the joys of art. Knowing this and accepting it gives us a way of preserving those sorrowful joys in celluloid amber, of letting our artsy life fade and wither like an en verso Dorian Gray: Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Natalie Portman and now Mila Kunis - a single line of frozen youth unwillingly dragged into the middle ages, thence to become self-mutilating corpses. But first the bloom. If her name wasn't so reminiscent of Milan Kundera I'd like Mila more, but it is, and so I think of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and 20 years ago in Seattle trying to watch it on VHS with my platonic girl friend-friend, when I was still too young to realize that one can't not masturbate or have sex or any kind of orgasm forever and not get sullen and irritable when living in close quarters with a beautiful intelligent blonde woman and no locks on the doors, watching some European art film rank with perfume ad sex and cocksman swagger... I wouldn't mention all that, except that it fits the BLACK SWAN to rushing, headlong, screaming "It is Accomplished" Tee.
But when the eye is for art and not for pornography, when 'I' stands for love and not for base desire, when a heart yearns for naught but is complete just to watch movies and pound Rainers and Red Hooks then Milan Kundera can go to hell. I've always been one to appreciate the purity of a chaste love... but it's so hard to find free time to take care of yourself when you're living in a commune, or with Barbara Hershey, or Isabelle Huppert's mother in THE PIANO TEACHER or Lux's parents in VIRGIN SUICIDES, or Piper Laurie in CARRIE. If you're feeling like you need to invade Iraq, or give up on your dreams in a fit of whiny depression, why not first try Seroquel, or see your Lexus dealer or give yourself some 'you' time-- as they euphemistically like to say.... Psychedelics can save your soul just as masturbation can save you from regretful decisions, art can save your life but only death shows the true color of the light behind the curtain and only it is unavoidable. They can't arrest people for successfully dying, much as they'd like to. Some of us peak behind the curtain, but most are content to wait for the curtain to come to them. Oh! It hangs like a CGI vibrator, all for you Damien! That signpost up ahead - it's your life's credits--quick check to see who played you. I'll go up! I'll go up!
Don't listen to a word of it. There are no words to Swan Lake, nor sex --just violins reflected in the inky blackness of its surface, and inky feathers in the sprockets overheating the projector until the bulb explodes in a shower of black swan Bergman's PERSONA blood:. You can live to be a hundred and never dance or you can blaze out by nineteen and never stop, but to find peace in sobriety you must first get drunk. You must become besotted to ever be bereft. You must first know MONSTER ugliness to be Oscar beautiful. You must first know fame before becoming eclipsed by your own empty spotlight. Like Moira Shearer in the Lermontov RED SHOES, like Lazarus risen from the dead, like Mike Hammer risen from the dead, the tortured barefoot husk of Chloris Leachman at his feet. Mikey! Brrrrrm! Pow! Swan-eee how I love ya / how I love ya.
I love you Patti, Chloris, Natalie. Natalie... Nat? Nat. Nat, pour me another.... take the sandbags off and take thy waxy wing to sky and go up / go up /up
And.. suddenly--just like that--you're old.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Die like an Eagle: ENTER THE VOID (2009)
ENTER THE VOID is the first drug movie of the 22nd century, so far ahead of its time it's behind it. Centuries from now humans will look at it and laugh: how little we knew of the afterlife, of the fourth through ninth dimensions! Gaspar Noé's warper is the first receding light in the void of what we don't yet know about death. A little over two hours, it's five hours too long. It renders all pornography obsolete, dicing and slicing at fear and desire until nothing is left and everything is revealed. I imagine this film in a room with the films of Americans of similar ballsy-mindedness, like Vincent Gallo, David Lynch, Larry Clark, and Darren Aronofsky--all of whom have a similar push me-pull you thing going with drugged-out sex workers and heartbeat/rapid breath-synched sound walls--and I imagine them all getting jealous and competitive like it's James Dean on planetarium day. If they were all playing chicken, only Gaspar would have the guts to sail off the cliff.. laughing all the way. Whose car are you going to ride along in, even if it is kind of battered and has those fuzzy day-glo dice? Sometimes day-glo is enough, and guts all over the windshield, and roller coasters, MILFs, MDMA, DMT, GHB, music box Bach, urns, car crashes... No, no, Noé, you had me at goodbye!
The term 'liberation' means different things to different nations, and people, but in every sense of the word there's something liberating about the traumatizing violence in VOID (I'm glad to say there's no brutal rape scene--at least in the cut I saw--so sensitive poetic males like me and the mentally challenged janitor at the end of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN can rest easy). That's not to say there's no trauma, but it's a productive kind- the kind you feel at the bottom of a K-hole, or after a day of dry-heaving through the bottom of a four week bender, a feeling it can't get no lower, a feeling you've reached your AA bottom and will be telling of this day for anniversary meetings in the years to come and even though no seaweed mermaid mom taxi will come to take you away down the comode pipes it hardly matters, since absolutely nothing worse can happen to you. It's the blacksmith on the Pequod showing off his epidermis: "I am past scorching; not easily can'st thou scorch a scar." Now you're free of scorching! It's what enables MARATHON MAN to throw a fortune in diamonds at Laurence Olivier. Away, away, into the selfsame sewer sea. And it's Ahab, beckoning you follow those diamonds down. Now that you're free, Tokyo.
Aronofsky reaches for the scars, the diamond-tossing in the heart monitor undertow of THE WRESTLER and the eye-rape editing of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and the collapsing tent of Marion Crane identity in THE BLACK SWAN, but he's still too American not to flinch or sync his key lights. If he could let all that go, America might finally have as much sex and vacation as France. Instead we get a hungry ghost monkey on our back screeching "show us your tits" at random intervals, chasing all our opportunities away. The fraternité thing enables the French to embrace the surrender, the weening, the realization that chasing your little death down the red light district alleyway, or racing through the airport to give a proper goodbye kiss to your departing Aniston, isn't going to postpone facing the Black Swan demon in the mirror.
The French get the joke, because they know the sting of occupation. America has not yet admitted complete defeat, while France has done the 12 steps, from Vichy to la Resistance. In World War Two France forked over its lunch money rather than getting its beautiful hair sullied in the pissoir and so they saved Paris from being bombed. Americans fought and died for French freedom, from afar, and read Sartre. "We were never freer than under German occupation," wrote Sartre. He was right. America has never been occupied, so it can only get jealous, cocky, dopey, demonizing, and deny that Sartre's brand of Leopold jackboot Sacher Masoch freedom is worth a damn. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, that's step one of AA. America's still down to party, why, you got a bottle? We don't have a prollem! YOU godda prollem!
I imagine America staggering like a slow-witted kid trying to find his way out of a candy store, and clearly so does Noé -- otherwise why was it so important the lead characters in ENTER THE VOID be Americans? And why Tokyo, a land who got its ass kicked in the war, worse than any other, and so learned a few things about not going into the militaristic jingo light blindly just because its pretty like a mushroom (psilocybe, cloud, or shitake --it's all the same in the end). The Japanese are a people fond of flash and Tokyo under Noé's floating spirit camera becomes a land of pulsing red light district fornications, abortions, drugs, and ratty little snitches who should go kill themselves and do us all a favor. On a double bill with LOST IN TRANSLATION, the meaning of being Bill Murray becomes clear. He's the closest thing our current cinema has to a Bogart, staring into the void of death with a wry smile.
When things actually die though, the French notice. When you surrender, lose your lunch, and lick the boot nice... and clean... then you feel the pain, because you are involved in mankind. You know the bell tolls for thee. You're not afraid to meet the eyes of babes. You can dance if you want to... even leave your friends behind, and use the pole without being stoned as a slut by your peers.
|stripper, hold the 's'|
This essay was really long, but I edited it down, and down, and down. Let me just say that as your doctor I recommend this movie very highly, but if you have panic attacks, epilepsy or nervous disorders, make sure your fully and properly medicated in a legit Rx fashion before entering. And just remember, wombs may look nice and relaxing from the outside when your ephemeral and a ghostly orb and stranded in the hungry ghost plateau, but once the placenta busts and the crying starts, it's the same old Hell... I mean heaven! Heaven... sorry god, Christ, and sponsor. Heaven.
Posted by Erich Kuersten at 7:11:00 PM No comments:
Labels: Buddhism, DMT, drugs, France, freud, Gaspar Noe, lacan, lsd, psychedelics, sex, Strip Clubs, Terence McKenna, Tibetan, Tokyo, violence
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Beards of Bleak: THE ROAD, WINTER'S BONE
Look at these two fine, bearded gentlemen above: Viggo Mortenson (left), billed only as 'the man' -- a grizzled survivor of an unspecified global holocaust, traveling with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in John Hilcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2009 THE ROAD; and John Hawkes (right) is 'Teardrop'--a grizzled meth head slightly of a mind to protect his niece (Jennifer Lawrence) as she travels into the heart of meth belt code-of-silence darkness in Debra Granik's 2010 WINTER'S BONE. The two films have much in common: ravaged rural starkness, paternal anxiety, and them man-oh-manly beards, pointing and twisting under hawk noses. Teardrop and the Man are the cinema's 2009-10 beard combo (1), the best such combo since Moss and Plainview in 2007's THERE WILL BE BLOOD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (another Cormac adaptation), and this time, there's fewer words in the titles, even fewer in the scripts, which is hard to believe.
There's an awful responsibility that overtakes us, cinema do declare, when raising kids in a land rife with scorched earthiness, meth, limb-hacking, and squirrel skinning. Kids in horror and sci fi used to be possessed by demons. In the 1980s they hung around long-fingered aliens and quirky robots but were generally safe. Now kids have fallen from their endangered pedestal as beacons of Spielbergian light or position as 'other' to be feared, and become mere luggage, screaming cargo that must be protected from C.H.U.Ds, hillbilly paranoids, cannibalistic pedophile priests, and zombies if one is to avoid the agony of being branded a bad father and having to spend the rest of the film crying and staring at old family pictures. All one really wants to do is shoot, smoke, sniff, and sail away from life's burdens, but they have kids. In the 70s they could still do all that stuff, and just get a sitter. Now though, what if the sitter's a psycho or there's a fire? They can't relax even for a second. Gradually they go nuts from anxiety, the kind of nuts some meth or booze would handily cure.
BONE is the sleeper indie award winner this year, though first glances might make you sigh a BASTARD OUT OF GEORGIA RULE HOUNDDOG'S SWING BLADE RURAL JUROR poetic realism on the cheap kind of 'here we go faux-Faulknering' harmonicas and steel guitar-scored sigh. But, as I explained to my sentimentalism-wary lady friend when we watched it, even if all the signposts are the same that don't mean it's the same road. That's the mistake that made so many film scholars originally overlook Douglas Sirk! Underneath all that soap was a very dirty boy. But you had to scrub a little to uncover how deep that dirt went.
I'm sure by now you don't need me to tell you that WINTER'S BONE is beautifully photographed. Every image reminiscent of the lovely dust bowl portraits by Dorothea Lange, but in color and thrift shop winter couture, slow drip rainspouts, baleful-eyed horses, eerie drones and impeccable foley wind-swept periphery shrub rustling. The story itself is interesting, proving as did in DOMINO and JACKIE BROWN that bail bondsmanship is a fertile, relatively under-explored film subject. Dee (Lawence) has to forfeit her house to the bail bondsman if her meth cooker dad doesn't show in court so down the dirt hills trail she treads, asking tough questions of her hostile, meth-paraoid kinsfolk. As she's met by slammed doors and threats Dee begins to resemble the Phillip Marlowe of Tobacco Road, bravely digging where no one wants her to dig, taking a beating without flinching, hallucinating under quality pain killers, relentlessly traversing a mise en scene of desolate winter landscapes and druggy evasiveness. The men hide behind smoke and yellowed curtains, guns at the ready, hallucinating police cars in the thumbprints on the windows. Where male detectives in 40s noir found Venus flytrap perfumes overwhelming their war-torn senses, Lawrence finds tough, inscrutable men, all relatives to some degree or other, their brains half-fried, with violent tempers, coiled cottonmouth postures. If they have information she must suss it out but that takes time and their wives are listening in the next room with a shotgun under their aprons. Dee's knightly champion eventually emerges from Teardrop's twitchy shell, kinda... but drug users are notoriously slip-prone when it comes to metamorphoses.
The main difference between Teardrop and the Man seems to lie in this approach. Still like a cobra, eyes cast low in a thousand yard stare, Teardrop's superiority lies in the cool uncle position. When he finds a stray strand of nurturing in his soul's muddy weave and a banjo is introduced you practically cry to see this man finally engage in something that's not potentially deadly or destructive. At that moment, you know Howard Hawks would have loved him.
So, without a reliable social order in place in either dirty outdoors film, the thematic question seems to be, when is life 'safe' for little children to frolic? Dee proves it never is, so fuck it, frolic anyhow. The Man thinks it will be safe 'later' - so 'the boy' gets carried hither and yon, like America getting the paranoid treatment from a stand-down military, like the boy is George Bush and Viggo is Dick Cheney, creating all sorts of problems with his paranoia and access to the inner ear of power.
As I've written on BL, I think we're reaching an ugly saturation point in that regard: it's become cheap shorthand to get the audience deeply disturbed and emotionally involved, but at what cost?
Another thing I'm glad BONE forgoes is sentimentalizing childhood innocence. Funny how the two things go hand in hand, as if innocence itself was a side effect of corruption rather than vice versa. Both films examine the nature of emotional involvement, and of parenting and responsibility, and while both films tug at issues of bare life survival vs. the sweet joy of giving up, only BONE knows how to harness the beard, the wild man energy of the masculine. THE ROAD paves the way, perhaps, in subtextually condemning the conservative 'my family uber alles' ethos, but only BONE takes that message all the way to the bottom of the family swamp, where the wild man lies, and dredges that deep man up.
As Robert Bly wrote in IRON JOHN:
"... going down through the water to touch the wild man at the bottom of the pond is quite a different matter. The being who stands up is frightening, and he seems even more so now, when corporations do so much work to produce the sanitized, hairless shallow man." (2)That's poor Viggo in THE ROAD, a sanitized man, re-bearded, trying to be wild in a wild land, learning the role of the deep, dark masculine and getting it incorrect. No reflection on Viggo, of course, who showed he can bring that shit hardcore in the RINGS trilogy and HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. What I don't like is the head-on craftsmanshippy approach to the McCarthy novel --it gets it too right, maybe, to work. Teardrop on the other hand is the truly untamed wild man, the kind of guy that creeps you out at first but then somewhere along the way, not sure when, you start to admire him.
Isn't that so much better, children, than the other way around?
1. Yeah, THE ROAD came out in 2009, but I didn't see it til last week, so what?
2. Vintage Books, NY, 1990 - Page 6
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Sullivan's Jet Travels: Rich Kid Cinema
A recent post by the unique and sensational Cinetrix, pulling the otherwise unstoppable Dan Callahan in The House Next Door to the curb over a piece about 'rich girl cinema' reminded me I had this semi-self-righteous rant tucked away in my 'drafts' file. Too snobby and self-righteous? You decide!
Being rich gives kids like J.L. Godard, Sofia and Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson, M. Night Shamylan, Alex Payne, and Jason Reitman a strange obsession with the non-jet set, and a vague hand-that-feeds-them biting self-loathing disguised as knowledge of 'common people' and their 'real' problems. What was it William Shatner 'sang' about 'common people?' Anyone who's dallied in their midst knows they suck.
I have no problem (or only a sporadic one) with Wes Anderson as he deliberately avoids 'real life' - preferring the eccentric rich (like the respectful objectification of the brothers in DARJEELING UNLIMITED, j'adore). And Sophia Coppola is exquisite at capturing first-class Tokyo hotel ennui with Harrison Ford while Spike was off with Cameron Diaz, so the story behind LOST IN TRANSLATION goes. There's also a stretch of 20 minutes or so in VIRGIN SUICIDES that's totally awesome, you know the stretch I mean... but then Sofia thinks she can pull off MARIE ANTOINETTE just by gathering some of her friends together on location with fancy wigs and her favorite 1980s music on the anachronistic soundtrack. America recognized a boondoggle when they saw one.
No offense to him personally, but Jason Reitman to me is the worst of the lot (I hear he's a lovely fella in person). I've not been able to wade more than a reel or two into either UP IN THE AIR or JUNO, and that's weird since I love Ellen Page and Vera Farmiga. It seems to me Reitman is the type of filmmaker who hasn't flown coach in his entire life, who's never had to wait in line for a bagel, or change a light bulb, and without those valuable life experiences, what qualifications has he to tell stories about 'life' at all? His view on how people act and even walk feels not even observed, let alone lived. This again would be fine if he was making a Godardian polemic or Wes Anderson doll house, but not if he's going to get at anything like a 'real' truth.
As a recovering alcoholic for example, I can tell when the actor portraying an alcoholic onscreen doesn't know shit about what being alcoholic is like. Similarly, when an inexperienced rich kid makes a film 'about real life' you feel like you're being taught sex techniques by a virgin. And I have been! I know all sides of it. I know a thing. And even if not, will gladly mansplain it.
When anti-Apartheid campaigning was all the rage in the late 1980s, I remember being at an anti-Apartheid rally at the outdoor theater up in Syracuse that was run by this beautiful blonde girl, Christena (not her real name), a rich, blonde, pampered Single White Female type from Connecticut who proceeded to lecture a largely black, Rastafarian male audience about what it was like to be non-white in South Africa ("Imagine.. row after row of shanty towns."). I don't know if the rows upon rows of Rastafari felt as embarrassed for her as I did, but it was kind of emblematic... of something. And then a band came on after her and the bassist was 100 x better than I was, and my band was next... and I freaked out and ran home to take an 1/8 of mushrooms on the off chance it would make me 'play' music better. It didn't work, and that's why I blame society, and Jason Reitman.
Hey - does anyone remember that movie CQ (2001, above, and top)? Roman Coppola directed it, and man oh man, is it excruciating. And yet, it's so almost good it hurts, kind of like BARBARELLA, a film CQ clearly apes around the edges; and as a director he has all the worst qualities of Roger Vadim. Roman's cousin Jason Schwarzman is hilarious as a faux Jean Rollin, but the protagonist is a horrifically pretentious dullard played by hand-talker Jeremy Davies. Rather than blow our minds with a De Laurentiis-ish sci fi sex epic, Davies wants to make a tedious documentary of his cliche'd ex-pat Paris life, in grainy black and white, so we can all bask in the mundanity of his spoiled film student existence. Jean Eustache should be rolling around in his untimely grave!
|Tout va Bien - (1972)|
Then again, America never did have a Guy Debord or Brecht to call its own (unless they fled here to escape the Nazis). Maybe that's why we're so stuck when it comes to unpacking the difference between acrid satire and sour sermonizing. We deny class exists, with the result our art compels us to illuminate our own even while depicting another, like a guilty conscience.
For around a year or so I knew a quintessential Park Slope co-op kind of guy who freaked out if his roommate set the heater above 65 degrees in winter, or used the AC at all in summer, no matter how hot it got. Every day he'd bicycle every day across the Manhattan bridge to school, even in the rain, all the better to lecture everyone who'd listen about greenhouse gasses. He'd drone on about organic food at the Park Slope co-op, the evils of money and the NWO, and then, once a month, he'd go home to his super wealthy upper crust WASP family to get his allowance. Hilarious!
When being a film critic/theorist/ranter, it's important to keep all that in mind, as it illuminates the underpinnings of what I call trust-fund Marxism. Do the trust-fund Marxists care about 'the people' or are they like Sturges' Sullivan, merely idealizing the poor out of repressed guilt (the urge to 'give something back to the poor unwashed to make one's own diamond swimming pool less shame-soaked) or in order to covertly piss off his parents (or parent corporation)? I mean, it's fine to do that, just be aware of the glaring irony. The blue collar guys ain't gonna see yer pitcher. They think your artsy sermons are bullshit. They want to see cartoons.
I recall this quote from Sullivan's butler:
You see, sir, rich people and theorists - who are usually rich people - think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches - as disease might be called the lack of health. But it isn't, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with filth, criminality, vice and despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunnedIn short, my rich kid cinema critique isn't mean to champion the working class, or the unemployed, homeless, etc., in fact like Sullivan's butler, I hate them. I hate the characters of directors like Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and John Sayles, those critically-lauded filmmakers that try and 'justify' their use of national endowments by patronizing the proletariat with that 'Barton Fink feeling.' Also, just because they can afford to keep meddling producers at bay, ensuring the true stamp of auteur (rather than the committee second-guessing that comes with too many producers), doesn't mean they don't need script doctors. It seems to me that since they didn't 'earn' their budget, they have this need to prove their 'stories' worth telling, and cinema is a hard thing to fool. We fancy-ass expensively-educated critics can deconstruct a blazing hole right through the curtains of any auteur's big wizard style. We'd know you were a rich kid filmmaker even if you signed your name 'R. Mutt' or Alan Smithee. We can tell because you think poor or lower middle class people are noble, humble and saintly, rather than loud, boorish and filthy. This is because you clearly have never had to fly coach. The closest you've come to meeting 'common people' is when your usual drug dealer isn't answering his pager.
As I say, except maybe for the preppie wankery of Whit Stillman, I like films by rich folks to be about rich folks. In general I'd much rather roll with the rich kids in cool parties like the ones in Bertolucci's STEALING BEAUTY than mope around some rich snob's idea of working class Bristol. And besides, to get films finished you need money, and since cinema has a respect for finished films and without a fall-back income source, budding auteurs can get slammed into the dirt by budget issues, even inches from the finish line, having to crawl into bed with litigious distributors who tie up the DVD rights for decades. It happens to Abel Ferrara all the time, which is why half his movies are unavailable in the States... ever!
Not all rich kid auteurs are bad: there's a purity of voice in Wes Anderson, for example, a unity of taste and mood that you can't get in a film that's leveraged to the hilt with a dozen different film company backers; Noah Baumbach brings strong doses of scathingly honest bitchiness and bravely hilarious moral ambivalence to his loosely autobiographical skewerings, the sort that nervous execs would probably never greenlight if they were paying the full bill; Alexander Payne is one of Middle America's true Swiftians, and if he does depict low income protagonists it's clear he'd rather dump them into a sea of embarrassment and watch bemusedly as they drown, rather than romanticize their mundane suburban prefab ennui.
|Darjeeling Limited (2007)|
The thing is, ultimately, if an auteur has enough money and is a recognized name, he can easily surround himself with sycophants for whom is every lame idea he expounds is exclaimed as brilliance. The result? THE HAPPENING and THE LADY IN THE WATER (below).
I call attention to this not to blame these aforementioned rich kids for the silver of their spoons, but to point out that these kids might benefit from some time out on the real bread line, ala SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS or the very least, a trip on a public bus. Let John Sayles get conked on the head and do time in the chain gangs, so he can realize that the average 'worker' is a boorish thug; let Reitman be thrown into one of those David Fincher's THE GAME experiences, or a serious iboga trip. Send Roman Coppola to the ayahuasca communities of the rain forest in San Paolo and make him clean the vomit buckets. Most of all, make these punters realize that what they think of as 'normal' is to us as rarefied as a bird with crystal plumage. Would we try and teach them how to party at Ibiza? Or how to ask their parents for money? Then they shouldn't try and teach us how to suffer and yearn for self-expression as they fly around the world in their first class haze, romanticizing the poor like some one-man amateur mendicant society. Then again, people seem to love Jason Reitman... so maybe I'm the rich yob after all. Hmmm? I am, after all, pretty deft at asking my mom for money.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Acid's Greatest Shorts: THE SUNSHINE MAKERS (1935)
According to Annetesmusic on youtube comments, they used to play this between sets at the Filmore in 1969, with 'sunshine' being a common euphemism for acid. I believe it!
"We're happy when we're / sad"
"We're always feeling / bad"
-- "How are ya?" / "Terrible!" / "That's fine."
"We're happy when we're / sad"
I have no memory of seeing this at 'the Filmore' or ever going there at all, but I did see it a lot around the age of 13-16, when I'd fill out the ends of my VHS tapes with old cartoons culled from TV shows like 'Matinee at the Bijou.' So The Sunshine Makers was on at the end of a tape I watched almost constantly - Nighthawks (starring Rutger Hauer!) followed by The Thing (1951) followed by Cat People (1942)... a perfect flow. I still remember all the words to the "Hail his majesty the sun" song, and the "Happy when we're / sad song." My brother and I would sing it to each other for laughs. I had no idea about the acid connotations til years later when it showed up as something they play between guests in Get Crazy.
Of course my brother and I rooted for the Sad people, who, after all, have a clearer understanding of morality and Lacanian objet petit a... i.e. the more miserable you pretend to be, the more happy you really are, vs. the terrible 'command to enjoy' perpetrated by the Sunshine makers. It's a chilling lesson, the reason everyone acted so miserable behind the iron curtain, and yet drank more vodka and had more fun than the rest of us, once the curtains were drawn. It's sci fi dystopia imagining along the lines of WILD IN THE STREETS and GASS-S-S, wherein acid-soaked hippie youth culture becomes the new jackboot conformity... and of course, you can read the hook noses and dark, vaguely ethnic clothing of the sad people as an anti-semitic signifier set if you so choose... but I'd rather just dig the row of bummer sprayers who get bombed with sunshine and start dancing like goofy little doofuses, and think of the recent footage of North Korean military displays and wonder if, at this advanced age, as the wind whips the trees outside my office window, the USA will ever get its 'true' sunshine on again. The consumerist command to enjoy is suffocating us... when all the time we were happier when / we were / sad.
Or were we? On the other hand, tralalalalala. I won't deny that acid saved my life, that I was beyond miserable and turbo depressed until first mushrooms than acid lifted me up from punk rock ennui and into the arms of my future loving hippie clique.
So enjoy... and remember, it's brought you by Borden's!!! MMM-hmmm Borden's.
And pray with me that one day, GET CRAZY will come to DVD.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Totaled Recall: THE HANGOVER (2009) and WHO IS HARRY NILLSSON? (2010)
Full of triumph, tribulation, amusing comic turns, and a manageable portion of tiresome dick humor, THE HANGOVER is a fine way to end mid-life crisis month, i.e. November. It's all about memory and manliness and lack thereof, and if it took me awhile to see it, well, I confess I used to have problems with Bradley Cooper - the beady eyes, the cocky glassiness, the way he didn't deserve Jennifer Garner in ALIAS - but all is forgiven here. Now I love the nasal nonchalance with which he greets the next morning's calamities with a shrug and a swagger. Annoying Ed Helms (THE OFFICE), meanwhile, wakes up and starts instantly to fret about a missing tooth and that there's a tiger in the bathroom so he can't even get in there and check his gums. Cooper just chortles and rolls with it, like most people would. Dude, to me it was just like every morning/afternoon waking up on tour with my band! I was always trying to find my pants, like Zach Galifianakis does, but we'd never slip anyone Rohypinol unless they specifically requested.... which they did. My crew loved Rohypinol, we didn't waste them on girls, we didn't need to. We were men, y'all, men who loved to pop Mexican Quaaludes as they used to be known. Even if they made our parties turn into snoring Jonestowns, I'm sure we must have had fun before we crashed. Didn't we? No one had phone cameras in those days so we'll never know. But also, our crew had no Ed Helms whiner character, just various degrees of Galiafinakis, and all was bearded and chill with the worrlzzzz.
Erroneously called 'rufflin' or something in the film, by a dentist who should know better, Rohipynol is sooo much more than a date rape drug. Don't let the frat boys give it a bad name. May any man whose ever spiked a girl's drink with one drop dead instantly, by Crom!
Oh yeah, THE HANGOVER. Well written, well directed, well photographed, it solves nearly all the problems I usually have with dumb Nevada-set comedies, and in fact is better at depicting that special drug fueled blur than Terry Gilliam's much more pedigreed FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. Frankly, despite Helms' histrionics (he's worse than Alan Arkin in THE IN-LAWS) there's a real sense you'd want to hang out with these guys, whereas Depp and Del Toro in LOATHING seemed way too pretentious and violent to want to actually have more than a quick shot with before excusing yourself, going to the bathroom, and running for the hills. To bond with the HANGOVER posse one need take only a sixth shot of Jaeger, whereas Hunter would need to wave a gun in your face and scare you off, so you wouldn't see how alone and twisted he was inside.
Yeah, when it comes to drug-fueled mayhem, Zach, Brad and their dorky friend are like a good band - the alpha, Bradley Cooper on lead guitar and vocals, getting them in trouble with daring reckless drive. On bass, the rooted crazy calm of Zach G, and the clatter of nervous Helms on drums. Hunter's band would never even learn two chords before they smashed their guitars... that wouldn't fool me. I saw the Replacements in '84! Matsbra!
But, for all that, THE HANGOVER ain't perfect. First of all, these guys are pussies, because when you wake up with a super hangover like that, the thing is to just keep drinking. Nothing cures a hangover like more alcohol. There's no earthly need to sober up, dear friends, til the wedding's over. The wedding photogs can always redden up your pale, sickly countenance in Photoshop. Not that they did for me, that's show biz.
But, I totally felt that anxiety Ed Helms feels due to their staying in a designer hotel suite, where you're surrounded by luxury items that cost ridiculous amounts, so you're dying for a drink and there's booze all around, but if you take it they charge you like $45 for an airplane bottle, or $25 for a small tin of nuts. Dude, when I go to a hotel I don't want to feel like I'm sleeping in the lobby of an expensive department store, afraid to roll over in bed lest I occur some exorbitant charge by knocking over a pillow. I mean, are they charging me for every splurb of ginger-lemon-scented hand soap? The whole thing never fails to throw me off, so even if I get a comp bottle of designer mineral water I become afraid to open it, afraid to even go down the hall for ice cubes, lest the top flight party girls see and judge me, snickering over how plebeian I am for expecting an ice machine in such a posh spot - everyone knows room service brings it... and charges.
On the other hand, when you're with 'the guys' there's often a kind of vertical displacement of responsibility, as opposed to going to one of these places with your girlfriend and being expected to show her a great time even as it's plunging you into debt and she's rolling her eyes, blaming you for the rain, and making wearying demands for 'spontaneity.' Groups of guys are more fun because there's no need to constantly prove why you're a good boyfriend, to make sure she's having a good time like some overstressed cruise director, and the HANGOVER is brilliant at showing how four guys riffing and going off in random directions at the same time in the same place, concurrent yet counter-intuitive, can bewilder the world around them into a kind of on the spot detournement societal melt down, thus enabling said guys to get away with everything short of arson. My band and I, for example, could take over and completely change the vibe of, say, a sleepy all-night diner, or an understaffed bar. Special shout out to the girls of Old City Hall in Oswego, 1992. Favorite blurry memory of that tour: Five in the morning, skinny dipping in a freezing Lake Ontario while the snow drifted down! Alcohol rules!
But again, this is Vegas, the city of bromance and legalized prostitution...SPOILER: the final photos of the lost night smack of all the things the aforementioned stone cold bitch is right to condemn... Those implants have families damn it. They were once beautiful breasts and now just embarrassing, shocking reminders of a world gone wrong. Still it is cool to see the enemies of the day-after suddenly as the friends of the night before, preserved in the fleeting amber of digital phone memory cards. Healing, you might say.
In the pantheon of rock/pop there's always those artists whose albums you see everywhere and never buy, though there's always one or two people who are into them and try to tell you how great they are and you're just not having it... Procol Harum? Molly Hatchet? Todd Rundgren? Foghat? Whaat? I used to always put Nilsson in with them, some relic of a bygone age...That won't happen again now that I saw WHO IS HARRY NILSSON (AND WHY IS EVERYBODY TALKIN' 'BOUT HIM)? a documentary with a title that instantly places him as the singer of that song in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969, rated X). Off to a good startbra.
Seeing the documentary helped unearth a lot of 'lost' childhood memories, such as being five and excited for the premiere of Nilsson's psychedelic 1971 TV cartoon, "The Point." Even then, at five or whatever, the cartoon made me annoyed with its YELLOW SUBMARINE psychedelic puns and Seuss-brand nonconformism. But I shouldn't blame Nilsson for being so proud of his ABC prime time slot-winning. Do we devalue Vince Guaraldi because that bridge in 'Linus and Lucy' is so overused in commercials? Nilsson was a partier, to the extreme! That is what we must struggle through the cold Las Vegas afternoon to 'remember'.
Meanwhile Nilsson's record producers loved his incredible voice and gifts so much they seemed to just let him go too loose, recording every drunken sing-song blather that came into his head. They were all broken up still by his leaving them. (Apparently John Lennon was a negative influence). And leave them he would.
His younger Irish wife speaks as well as she can of our Harry in the documentary, and she still looks a pretty hot, and his gorgeous children remember a loving but mostly absentee dad. Though I wished there could be a Polaroid trail of his wild lost weekends, ala THE HANGOVER, it was enough of a change of heart for me that I ran to my emusic account and downloaded NILSSON SCHMILSSON and NILSSON SINGS NEWMAN. A long time Randy Newman fan (pre-TOY STORY only, playa), it's been my pleasure to hear Nilsson sing "We got to tell the people 'bout Utah / 'cuz nobody seems / to know," while walking to work down Brooklyn's scenic Vanderbilt Ave. every morn...nin'.
But man, this country needs to remember more than Utah... we need to remember that remembering is for chumps and blackouts mean you must have had a blast, and hangover cures don't come better than a 50-50 mix of gin and grapefruit juice... chased with an overnight jail sentence, rehab, 90 AA meetings in 90 days, and... toast... it takes you an hour to eat one piece of toast you're so shaky and nauseous from alcohol withdrawal or poisoning, whichever comes first and sometimes both at once, to be so full of whiskey you can't stand up or talk, but still twitching from alcohol withdrawal.
But in the end, is having all that candle at both ends-style fun even worth it if you don't remember a damn thing? As someone who used to spend his week dreaming of Friday when I could grab a bottle like a reverse parachute and just plunge into the void, I can tell you flatly, "nobody seems / to know." Memory is not to be trusted, and the moment itself doesn't exist outside your own slicing of past and future like a dwindling cube of sopium in a room full of grubby jonesers. You're better off seeking Jesus, but churches smell like the elderly, and you can't smoke in the pews. Your best bet is this: download Nilsson's "Jump into the Fire" and listen to it walking down the street pretending to be a coked-up Henry Hill. That should answer all your questions, you black-out reincarnater. You jumped into the Lake Ontario fire a million times and don't remember... Hopefully someone, even now, is up in the ether, savoring and recording your every lost howl.
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