Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Remote in Reach: THE WALL (1979)

Believe it or not, there was a time when I, too, despised all stoners. It was 1980-83 in central Jersey; nothing personal to Eisenhower Middle School -- a few evil schoolmasters aside -- and nothing personal to the stoner kids, who were all nice enough in their brusque way. Just too loud and too comfortable in their dirty denim and unkempt hair for my 13 year old's new-kid-on-the-block super genius morbid acuteness of the senses. I kept waiting for one of them to bully me, but only one little rat bastard named Matt Muniz ever bothered, and even he only a handful of times and generally only picking on one of my weaker friends while I trembled. But he was on my bus and on the way to school I'd hear him and his buddies in the back singing: "we don't need no education / we don't need no thought control," and I'd whisper to myself "yes you do, Matt Muniz." And so, without knowing much about them, I hated Pink Floyd, and burnouts of every description. Contempt prior to investigation -- it can strike anyone. 

A mere five years later in college I loved Floyd like the rest, but The Wall record was still a problem area due to these past associations--and that included the film, which I naturally painted in the same contemptuous colors as I painted Matt Muniz (and likely myself for not stepping into help my abused fellow nerds). Especially grating was the "We don't need no education" song, which I would skip even if it wasn't my record player, much to my fellow freshmen stoner's consternation.

It's absurd to think I would be dumb enough to waste my time disliking a song because it triggered mental associations with slack-jawed Jersey thugs, all long gone, yet the pain, if that's the word, lingered on. I eventually owned every single Floyd album, except The Wall. And of course, I preferred Syd Barrett-era Floyd more than late era, blah blah zzzzzzz.

In 1997, though, the film--directed by Alan Parker and written by Roger Waters--found its way to me via a big VH1 premiere marathon. It was on 24 hours a day and I'd done recently done a voiceover for a Curve Perfume ad ("Curve for men, Curve for women. New from Liz Claiborne"--that was ME!) which VH1 and MTV were playing--also around the clock-- during almost every break, so I watched THE WALL over and over, in a drunken haze of self-satisfaction, taking a heroic swig from my 1.75 Ten High bourbon bottle every time the Curve commercial played. In the process, THE WALL became mine,  associated with my big Curve perfume glory and whiskey exaltation. Matt Muniz association, adieu!

And now, long after the last of the Curve royalty checks has gone, I finally understand: THE WALL, for all its midnight cult cache, turns out to be one of the few movies works noticeably better with commercials, and as a relic of past association rather than 'future memory'. The Ads and station breaks help metatextualize the film's repetitive jumble of semi-autobiographical 'rock star in mental decline' vignettes, and youthful associations make one more forgiving of its glum, emotionally-arrested self-absorption.  The Wall benefits from the double-meta layering a commercial break provides. We now have a commercial movie about a man alienated by commercial society, interrupted by commercials for the new Mitsubishi Gallant. Recuperation-meets-itself on the avenue and they both disappear in a Situationist explosion... of flavor. 

If this WALL is stoner-worthy today, it's only because of its animated sequences, which are so psychedelic they go all the way back to disturbing. flowers morphing into iron hammers, flowers fields into battle-scarred war zones, marching hammers, screaming mouths, all caked in working class LSD-spiked political oppression Orwellian fascist critique as only the Brits can do it. Scenes are strung together in associative and movement/color-related fashion, stretching and collapsing time and space but stuck in a schizophrenic dissociative thought loops. There's no real arc of a narrative beyond the run of the mill nervous breakdown imagery (perhaps reflecting Syd Barrett's descent to too-much-acid insanity-something that sounds badass but is traumatizing and dispiriting). So we see avalanches of rioting kids, crashing gates to the stadium, burning cars, etc. over and over, all seemingly in some giant soundstage. and the wandering of a laddie this way and that way through the train station, envying the kids whose soldier dads do come home, over and over; the grotesque obese working class mother looming down on us like a carnival attraction; Pink as older and a rock star convalescing in his hotel room, a vacuum cleaner whirring in the hallway outside launching him into a tantrum; Pink ignoring his wife, then getting furious and surprised when she leaves him; Pink ignoring a sexy groupie in his hotel room to watch The Dam Busters instead; Pink ignoring other people etc. His entourage trying to get him in good enough shape to take the stage, etc. No one ever laughs or has a good time, unless it's gluttonously, ala the mom having tea and crumpets, or Bob Hoskins as the Cristal-sippin' manager (if this were a musical version of DEMENTIA, and it kind of is, Hoskins would be the Bruno Ve Sota --it's that kind of deal The music (jazz and theremin-like Marni Nixon vocalizing) might be better in Dementia, but that's a personal taste kind of thing). 

It's common lore paring Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz (1939), right? Never tried it but I hear its a blast. Also, it's clear how that started: a bunch of stoners watching OZ with the sound off and the album playing and catching a presumably random series of time/theme coincidences. It's proof Floyd is weird enough it goes well in any meta mash-up. And The Wall is a mash-up art waiting to happen.

That's why, then, that last night I was flipping the channel to/from The Wall and World War Two documentary, one similar (same war at least) to  The Dam Busters (Pink's favorite), possibly even using some of the same archival footage. So during the commercial breaks between aged Allied veterans talking plainly and humbly about the gore and mass slaughter of D-Day on the Military Channel, I flipped to The Wall on VH1. These old dudes in this D-Day documentary were just grateful to be alive and to have been spared--and then---commercial for a "catheter that hurts less." What a reward! I toggle back over to VH1, and there's old Geldoff smashing the telly because he's too famous and fucked-up and nobody loves him. 

I wanted to wire the ghost of Winston Churchill to rise up and kick him in the bum.

But the animation sequences indicate that, despite the rampant solipsism, the movie kicks it most acidly. As with "true" psychedelic art, the animation captures the way sensory perception, metaphor, dream symbolism, fantasy, and the horror of mortality all collapse into a single unbearably chthonic flower grinding up on its stamen and eating/fucking/killing anything it can reach.

Medical science might dismiss this kind of close reading of non-temporal reality as mere hallucination, but it's the other way around. If we can see the apple decaying in the pantry, or bursting with health fresh from the tree, see it breathing in the sunlight, aren't we, in fact, seeing more clearly than those with the illusion that is a finite, unchanging object? If we see flakes of skin and waves of electromagnetic energy rippling around our face and hands, are we 'hallucinating' or seeing what normal people screen out because it's not necessary for us to survive day-by-day? When the blinders are off due to whatever madness or drug, we see that is the perception of organic matter as inert is the hallucination --everything is rising, decaying, rising again with every breath and death. It's the sense of "permanence" and completeness--from second to second--that's the illusion. But without it, without being able to just say 'okay, that's an apple in my buddy's hand, do I want an apple, too? no - okay, move on, no reason to waste seconds being awed by its beauty' we'd be just sitting there bug-eyed all the time, like an infant looking out the window, and never get anything done. The blinders help us plow from goal to goal and meal to meal , like the mother with her crumpets, and the dimwit groupies with their hair and nails.

Another thing the film gets definitely right is the whole confusing "warm thrill of confusion / that space cadet glow" that comes from being all fucked-up in a giant sea of fucked-up people at some packed, fucked-up rock show, where you can sense the violence seething in the hormonal ebb and flow of the turned-on fucked-up crowd. One of the very first scenes of THE WALL is a bunch of stampeding, rioting fans plunging into the darkness from a broken chained-up door. Rioting - is there any more depressing example of mammalian 'spooked herd' behavior?

I know because I was in two riots, or rather was direct witness. Before the Curve commercial, after Matt Muniz, right in between there, 1987-8, I witnessed, and was almost part of, a truly horrible-to-behold-while-on-acid mass stampede of ticketless Grateful Dead fans roaring up the side entrance ramp of a West Virginia amphitheater. I was in the head of the charge to begin, part of a "who's got my miracle ticket?" posse of revelers. Unlike them, though, I didn't give a shit about getting in... I was just there for the drugs. "There's only one old lady taking tickets at Gate seven!" noted my friend when he returned from scoping it out, seeing if he could somehow sneak in. My whole ticketless broke-ass posse took off at once, me following. But as we went from a walk to a run toward that gate, everything intensified and became riot strength---stampeding (you could feel the asphalt vibrating like horses hoofs). I found myself walking off to the side of the ramp going up, not wanting to be part of it. If I hadn't left right then, I would have been trampled, thrown against the glass, arrested, or forced to listen to yet another 20 minute medley of "Aiko Aiko / Not Fade Away." 

My heightened fear of violence and general lack of interest in seeing the Dead trumped my fear of being alone that night so I was able to witness--in full on acid-just-kickin'-in hyper-real lysergic intensity--a huge explosion of violence as the crowd smashed through the gate, glass breaking, security guards and cops chasing and clubbing bloody hippy faces on the upper decks; cops grabbing kids by their tie-dyes as they tried to jump back into the crowd below; cops grabbing their long dreads in a balled up fist; screaming and yelling by everyone about everything; cops with clubs and the heavy sound of bodies smacking into pavement, blood, and then... just as quickly, it was all over and forgotten.

I couldn't believe it. Even the cops with hand-cuffed hippies in tow seemed to just go back to laughing and standing around. One busted kid had a broken nose which was why all the blood was all over his shirt, so no worries, he's fine, or so some kid explained in passing me as he slunk back down the ramp, just a nose broken --no big deal.

But I was by then super high on a lot of acid, and the violence I'd just witnessed had electrified a part of my brain usually unplugged... for a reason. It went deep into my psychic tissues and stayed there, twisting like a bloody animated nerve - my hippie flower within was pulled out by an ugly metal flying eagle... Goodbye, blue sky.

I imagine old Roger Waters had plenty of similar altered state traumas while touring with the Floyd, and probably--as I did that day--found his faith in his fellow man forever shattered like plexiglass partitions as suburban teens bumrushed the gates like the jackbooted yobbos of old. Roger, I've seen them too! The ugly mass of crank-fed Matt Munizes, chomping at the bit with potential post-show rioting. And this was on Dead tour in 80s, bro! I can only imagine how bad it was in the UK's infamous Thatcher 70s. And I've felt the ugly terror of tripping on waaaayy too much acid (because you were insecure about playing so weren't careful when some was offered by an eager fan), while trying to play electric bass as stage lights shine in your face like giant tubes of light through the cigarette smoke haze, and the flashes of audience faces and their roars of encouragement are suddenly stripped of their modern gentility by your now woefully under-shaded windows of perceptions, the primordial cannibalism inherent in their weird Dionysian consumption of your music, the ecstatic danger where they seem always about to devour you, ripping you to shreds ala Suddenly Last Summer. If your emotions weren't scattered across the endless lip of the infinite you'd be screaming and screaming until they carted you off like Syd Barrett before you. Yes, I've felt all that and that was playing trippy acid rock covers to 100-200 dancing college hippies. I can only imagine thousands of Thatcher-era druggie youth, fighting each other for prime front row positions, as you sway on your shaky thousand-toed feet, myriad effects pedals, lights, lasers, smoke and basses spread out below and around you like the controls of twenty different jet planes. 

To stay sane you have to position yourself as outside the masses, to privilege your position, make yourself the barker at the sadomasochistic carnival of torture (standing around for hours) and degradation (lining up to overpay for T-shirts just to prove you were there, in a faceless audience of thousands). You can't help them. They are moths to the flame of hell that is 70s rock-and-roll theater, a vortex of fire and deafening amplification, draining the youth and beauty of the throngs in a giant hoover, leaving toothless old junky faux-sages, incoherent even in their laughter, many of whom will later develop tinnitus from standing too close to the speakers. Still, they prove they don't need no education, and waving their dying lighters, they don't need sleep, food, a seat, or a job. And let's not forget the infamous 1979 Who concert trampling, an inspiration for--or foreshadowing--a similar stampede in THE WALL.

And that's the rub, for by far the most interesting aspect of the non-animated stuff in THE WALL is the whole bit of mixing lysergic 'horror' rock stadium mentality with Naziism-meets-Stalinism (double hammers, hold the sickle) militant pageantry. It's interesting in that respect that the only time Pink isn't a total asshole--the only time he seems at peace--is when he starts leading his little rock-and-roll Nazi rallies, lifting children, kissing young mums on the forehead, and singling out unwanted minorities for persecution from his lofty podium. Smiling, hugging, saluting his gathered throngs and otherwise firing up the engine of mobilized violence, he looks finally happy. Hey, Teacher! Dig those  KKK-Nazi-Inquisitor-witch hats!

Perhaps THE WALL then is acid cinema for those who've had a bad trip of the sort where they become a terrified, bug-eyed witness to the ugly souls of men. Compare Munch's "The Scream" with the agonized face on the WALL poster (below), and you realize the intended connection-  each a howling (open mouth = oral phase-trapped, still yowling for an absent teat, according to art therapists) witness to the hungry hungry terror that is humanity's clockwork march into self-obliteration, screaming, ever screaming for a war nurse who has five hundred more screaming patients to go before she gets to you).  If you're an acid dealer you need to avoid falling into this 'eternal now of horror' zone because it's your job to be the nurse, of sorts. The de fact triage doctor, to whom is brought brain-damaged idiots who didn't follow your strict dosage advice, thinking themselves cowboys of the beyond. But no one maybe tells you--the dealer--how much is too much when you test your shit out initially, so you kind of have to take too much just to find out how much is too much to take.  When you deal acid you deal in little perforated cards divided into 100 little perforated squares. Those squares are then each sometimes halved or even quartered-- resulting in the tiniest of measurements. Sometimes eve one full hit (single square) is a lot, even for an 'experienced' person like you. Sometimes it's not enough, even for a novice. There's no way to tell how strong or clean it is without plunging in. You are your own experimental subject and, like in a Roger Corman movie, that can sometimes leave you running up and down the halls attacking people making animal noises.

I've only had the problem around five or sixty times, but they burned holes in my soul I doubt even death will heal.

But I assure you: if you can make it through that hell (hopefully the liquor stores are open), the big Pink Munch scream overload, when when you finally come down, or up, you have the thousand yard stare. And only then do Buddha and Jesus write your name down in their date planners. Except they'll never call you, because you cheated. You brought your ego along, like contraband. 

THE WALL is thus a self-glorifying 'bad trip' acid movie,  for those who know the pain of having taken far too much of it, or any addicts of anything, or agoraphobes, longing for the "comfortably numb" feeling of being left alone to watch old war movies on TV all night, instead of having to go to the show. Oh to hide in the comfort of the dark, fumbling desperately for any full or half-empty bottle without cigarettes in it, still unable to ever fully dim the sensory overload in full, but taking gladly the devil's bargain of avoiding the eternal scream of the real for the temporary relief of the imaginary 

Whatever else you want to call it --insipid, self-pitying, grandiose, gloomy, depressing pretentious, self-aggrandizing --THE WALL is an undeniably effective work of both post-paisley propaganda. In uniting the doom-bent punks, posers and metalheads with the hippies and acid lovers, Waters essentially united the whole of your freshman dorm floor's potsmokers in solidarity over a single double album's opened joint rolling gatefold. Waters probably could have mobilized them all into an army--what Craig Finn calls a 'unified scene'--and incited the Matt Munizes of the world to rise up and kill their teachers and burn their math books, this time for real. Except you know, it's hard organizing the stoned to anything except maybe pool for a keg.

Roger didn't even get that far. Instead he believed his own press agent, bickered with the rest of the band and finally left the Floyd altogether, presuming it would collapse into dust without him. He's better off. Maybe. Can fiddle around and occasionally issue strange solo albums (likely destined for the cut-out bins, but so are we all) and putting on strange multi-media Wall performances in Europe). It's gone from being the emblematic pinnacle of self-indulgent moping and grandiose anarchy and become establishment and rich with synergy and trippy nostalgia. but it's still relevant and powerful. Like Margot Channing, that response may be maudlin and full of self pity--but it's magnificent.

If you don't like THE WALL, maybe it's not because it reminds you of Matt Muniz or your past rock glory and boozy drift into oblivion, maybe it just reminds you that even frosty remoteness is just another pose, that a 'reachable remote' is an oxymoron, that as fast as you might flip between channels, between analog rock concerts and HD WW2 documentaries, no remote reaches far enough to turn off that fat old sun in the sky / that's falling / right down on your shaved-ass head. So grit those teeth, son. This huts you more than it does me. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blu Water/ Summer/Heaven Ray

Summer - if you can't be at the beach, watch Blu-ray movies on a big HD TV that have lots of good ocean footage, underwater caverns, surfing, bikinis. Whassapppbra! Blu-ray can make these images so 3-D vivid that if you put some coconut oil under your nose, some coco de oro in your hair, baby you're there

As der ausgezechneiete Hasselhof's Baywatch proved, people feel relaxed looking at the beach, the surf, even if just on TV. Give them tanned bodies and lolling surfs, and just enough plot to keep their analytical mind from getting restless, to keep you looking at the screen until the surf images trigger inner waves of relaxation, a feeling of bobbing up and down in the current, and urges to buy sponsored products... Pamela Anderson was a great poster child for this sort of no-fault / no-foul proxy pleasure trip. But Jessica Alba has her beat, if only because her acting is moderately better, her features less synthetic, and she seems genuinely healthy and athletic rather than one step away from Hep-C.


I saw this at a press screening back when it came out, on a big big UWS screen and so I knew in advance that all the brilliant underwater footage of swimming with sharks was more or less 100% real. I was stoked--that is the word, my friends, "stoked"--to find INTO THE BLUE lived up to the hype... of its press release. Criticisms of the overall douche-bagginess of the two himbo leads (Paul Walker and Scott Caan) aside, when you can't even sneer more than a a handful of times, even when the righteous Walker is throwing away bags of coke out of principle, then you know a movie's not bad. And you don't really want a movie like this to be "good" because then it would be awful, you know what I mean? You want it to be good enough to be hold your interest, bad enough to not stress you out during the 'tense' cross-cutting.

INTO THE BLUE marks also one of the first times I ever laid eyes on Josh Brolin--hidden under cap, glasses and beard, I thought he was Matt Dillon going incognito--and even though he's the bad guy, he's so cool you root for him anyhow. He's one of the few non-douche bags in the film! In fact all the bad guys are cooler than the leads!

In fact I saw this on Blu-ray  last night with a young woman who didn't even recognize it was Josh Brolin under the hat, shades, and facial hair either and yet she was all, like, "I'm rootin' for that guy - he seems like he could be my uncle." This is some of my original 2005 Muze review:
"It's based on THE DEEP, a 1977 film that tried to capitalize on the JAWS phenomenon of the time but disappointed audiences by forgetting the sharks. This version is a much more exciting film and features shark attacks and real sharks swimming among the actors, thereby righting a 32-year-old wrong. Director John Stockwell also did BLUE CRUSH (2001), so it's a given there's no skimping on the beautiful scenery, both above and below the water line. With the gorgeous bikini-clad Alba undulating through the water like a mermaid, this movie becomes, in its own unique way, a perfect 10." (Muze c.2010)
  BLUE CRUSH (2002)

Underwater and/or beach movies are cool, but the best in my mind are "water-line" movies, those that plunge in and out of the waves and give you the effect of actually being in them -- like after a day spent in the ocean when you're lying in bed and can feel the ocean current still tugging at your body. Director John Stockwell's first big blue movie, BLUE CRUSH nails this with surfer-eye-level views of the clear blue Hawaiian waves, bobbing up and down like we're out there waiting our turn with the locals. Why isn't this on blu-ray yet? Answer me!

Here's an updated version of what I wrote in Bright Lights back in 2008, and it still goes:

The common critical response to the film at the time was that the awesome photography more than made up for the trite story and bland acting, but critics have always had a hard time with accepting truly free girl characters; if you can look past the surface colloquialisms this is practically a Howard Hawks film for young women: overlapping dialogue; strong camaraderie, good sense of continuity and pace, issues of courage, maturity and nobility. It’s all there, and best of all, the issue of romance getting in the way of your dreams–yeah you heard me, ladies, getting in the way of instead of being your dreams-–is handled with care and ballsy skill.

Matthew Davis plays the vacationing quarterback who romances Hawaiian surf rat Ann Marie (Kate Bosworth) causing her to lose focus right before the big pipe competition. Michelle Rodriguez is the best friend/trainer who sees what’s happening and knows Ann Marie is just scared she’ll hit her head on the coral reef, like she did last time. Real-life surf champ Sanoe Lake is, just, well, awesome; she’s a natural star and makes a perfect third in their posse, letting her surf sisters carry the emotional weight while she brings sandy authenticity and a deeply entrenched-in-the-termite-moment joi de vivre. When she rolls out of bed to answer the phone with a sleepy “how are the waves?” instead of aloha, you feel like you’re right in bed with her, covered in sand, and still drunk from falling asleep three minutes before.

Plus, there’s even a surreal horror element--like a META-TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE--when you see this one dude surfing wearing Kate Bosworth’s face (above). What? Maybe that's why there's no Blu-ray for this title? Too much detail on the Bosworth surfing long shots might turn the whole thing Tobe Hooper?


Sooner or later, vice cops make criminals of us all, but hey, maybe they have mutton chops. Crocket and Tubbs fund their jetset lifestyle with confiscated houses, money, boats, and cars from busted cocaine traffickers, which means they have the morals of a guinea pig and the ethics of a gangster, fucking narcs! Would'st thou arrest a lemon tree it if it drops lemons upon thy head, officer? And I don't even like cocaine; I've seen it turn too many of my friends into corpses or windbags or worse.

So, for all its acidemic incorrectness, MIAMI VICE still made the "decade list" of the inestimable Keith Uhlich over in the House Next Door. The British Time Out Film Guide meanwhile notes Mann’s got “images intricate in their expressionist eloquence and mythic in their noir poetry.” What does America’s Leonard Maltin book say? “Super cool cars, boats and planes keep this watchable on a fantasy level, but the final showdown is awfully conventional.” Whaaaa? "Super cool"? Lenny, the British just made you look stooooopid!

And Lenny, bro, one more thing: applying “conventional” to Mann is like applying “predictable” to the story of Madame Butterfly: “Colorful Clothes and impassioned singing make this passable, but still ends on the same depressing note.” Mann uses cop conventions like Puccini uses romantic tragedy or John Ford uses the western. The final showdown in VICE is actually unconventional in its conventionality, carrying various metaphysical significations, such as that yin/female energy is interconnected and serpentine, and how --on certain nights, you "can feel it / comin' in the air" - and by the dawn, everyone you know will either break up with their current lover and/or hook up with their new, as if some magic equalizing ripple effect gives and takes away in equal measure.

Great minimalist dialogue, great use of Moby featuring Patti Labelle ("One of these Mornings"), and those great trailer park mutton chops, and Colin Farrell doing what L. DiCap couldn’t do in BODY OF LIES, which is impersonate Russell Crowe successfully.  These guys are super tough and every line of dialogue is emptied of everything but professional balls-to-the-wall plot advancement. In their own way this Crocket and Tubbs talk as mystic-existential as the driver and mechanic in TWO LANE BLACKTOP.

 So there's three summer fun films for you, and also check out A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009), which is also another blue water / Blu-ray summer must, this time starring Milla Jovovich and one of my new favorite B-list beefcakes, an Eastwood-talkin' bro named Timothy Olyphant! (my review here).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Great Acid Cinema: The first 11 minutes of HOLY SMOKE (1999, Jane Campion)

Ah, what to do with Jane Campion? For every step forward, she takes two steps into her navel. Emboldened by her success with THE PIANO (1993), Campion forgot herself and went too deep therein, alienating us new fans with PORTRAIT OF A LADY (1996) a film so bogged down in weird costume design and John Malkovich's overacting that it forgot it was supposed to be about a feminist, not a dumb woman who falls for the first artsy dude she meets. Then there was HOLY SMOKE (1999). At least it's not Malkovich the protag falls for this go-round, but Jeeze Louise, or should I say, Kali Durga Smurga!? 

And yet--and it's a freakin' big-ass yet--the opening minutes, set to Niel Diamond's "Holly Holy," are perhaps the most brilliant thing in all cinema: a delirious free-flowing montage of Winslet and her pal's trip to India, meeting a holy man, riding up in an elevator; Winslet having her third eye opened, literally, in a brilliantly animated scene; intense and delirious and full of the chugging momentum into the white light which Diamond's song is all about. Winslet's just trusting herself to be led forward and winds up awakened in the power of this guru who zeroes right in on her third eye and slits it open with a touch of his finger. As the badass Niel Diamond song increases in intensity--slowly and surely, to its epic spiritually cool heights--so does Winslet's spiritual homecoming euphoria. It's perfect, blissful. You can feel it in your saliva; your Kundalini energy serpent stirring from its slumber at the base of your spine and commencing his slithering climb to your crown chakra. What's going on? How can cinema have such magic power, how can Neil Diamond be the trigger to our third eye opening?

Then of course -- the crash. She has to go back to Australia, and that's where the problems start as her mom doesn't like the idea of her being one of a hundred wives marrying this crazy swami, etc. As with Campion's other shrill Aussie hick humor films, like SWEETIE, she forgets she's supposed to be artsy now, not stupid art school artsy but badass brilliant artsy like she just was, two seconds ago, and then Harvey Keitel shows up and you're like "But he was the original Bad Lieutenant, how can he be such a wuss?"

It would be great if Winslet's spiritual seeker just stayed in that free-flowing opening credits, but then again, that's what spiritual awakenings are all about: the crash, the come-down or as the book says, "and then the laundry" or "chop wood and carry water" or "joyful participation in the sorrows of existence." The awakening always brings you eventually right back to tedious suburban wasteland hell you escaped from and then, what? How are you going to infuse your awakened self into the banal mix of unconscious consumers slurping their way through meaningless existences all around you?

Then again, was it ever really banal, or were you just not participating with full interest? Isn't even the dullest Wal-Mart parking lot a place of beauty have we but eyes to see? Good questions to ponder, but does the film ponder them? Frankly, I forget. All I remember is the great opening, and the downhill slope from thence. I'm sick with a bad summer cold... raisins dancing in a dish, and like the gas chamber, Varla. And then the darkness.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Acidemic listed in Film Society of Lincoln Center's Top Film Criticism Sites

Thanks to the Film Doctor For linking to this:

IT’S ALIVE!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll

It's a pretty highbrow list, with the likes of David Bordwell, Richard Brody, and Paul Schrader and all the Ozu that implies, but also some ultra-cool folks I know and admire, like the Self-Styled Siren, Kimberly Lindbergs (Cinebeats) and Greg Ferrara (Unexplained Cinema). Some of these sites I've never heard of and I'm excited. And to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and House Next Door's Matthew Connolly and Paul Brunick, my humblest gratitude. In the tone of Oscar Jaffe, I love you all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grasshoppers are from Mars: FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)

As you may have read on Acidemic's sister blog, Divinorum Psychonautics, I'm fascinated by ancient astronaut theory, and light bulbs are going off in my DNA over Hammer's 1967 mind-bender, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, because it fits the paranormal theories of our times --it could be true! It's got everything: crystals used as computers and projectors of remote viewing, antennae mistaken for horns resulting in our modern conception of the devil; ghosts, telekinesis, thought and dream video projection, the origin of man as an alien DNA-spiked primitive ape, mind control early Catholicism, it's all right there! It's the most comprehensive paranoid-but-true ingeniously low budget vision since PLAN NINE.

And you can sympathize with the British ministry of science as well, with Qatermass' alarmism showing no purpose except to shatter public order with hysteria. "People don't believe nothin' til they see it on the telly" -- why wasn't America this hip on what was happening in their sci-fi of the era? No coincidence that this (and the BBC 1958-9 series original) predates Erich Von Daniken's groundbreaking Chariots of the Gods by a few years, or that HORROR EXPRESS and THE CREEPING FLESH came out in the early 70s, all dealing with similar evolutionary 'whoa' epiphanies about the origin of the species and our concept of the Devil. It's like the shit was in the wind, the Akashic record was opened and left on the British library reading desk for any daydreaming sci-fi screenwriter or gutsy archeologist to tap into.

But this came first by over a decade: A giant metallic capsule is found buried in the earth during an East London tube dig, a moody Brit named Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) tangles with by-the-book Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) over whether it's a military threat (a leftover German propaganda device) or a science project. They find dead grasshopper-ish aliens in the ship, but after five million years they're down to their papier mâché exoskeletons, and then all hell breaks loose, literally, as the biblical vision of Hell turns out to be based on our Martian ancestor's memories of fleeing their dying fireball planet projected into our deepest collective unconscious memories. Space Locusts from Mars! Peter Graves knew what to do about giant grasshoppers in BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), but these are Martian ghost grasshoppers, and they've been dead for millions of years while still ghosting it up in the region in the form of wild local populace hallucinations (Spring-Heeled Jack's jumping was the spring of grasshopper legs). The Martian antennae might have been mistaken for horns and that's how the devil was born.

I dig that truth and belief have nothing to do with each other and yet create each other. I dig that the human ego is extraordinarily narrow-minded when it comes to consensual reality and maybe for good reason. Few of us want to connect the dots that lead us to the unpleasant possible truths such as the possibility that our difference from other life on earth is the result of some long-dead biotechnically advanced alien's mad scientist dabbling, especially since it's hard to prove it in any 'scientific' manner and it's scary to think about. We scoff but it's partly that we don't want to be considered 'nuts.' But those who would hear the horrible truth can't help but go nuts, unless it's told to us as fiction. 

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) has been unavailable on DVD in this country for some time, and used DVDs go for upwards of $70 and I suspect it's because it's too close to the truth. It fills in all the missing dots between ancient astronauts and demons, such as: the 'missing link' in human evolution; how the true story of our creation is encoded in our 'junk' DNA is ready to be projected back as soon as we evolve enough to access it, as if our brain is a video game and we've only mastered the first level but there a thousand more levels still encoded on our grey matter DVD-ROM waiting for us to access, etc.

This idea that sensory impressions of alien contact is buried in our DNA connects with the theories held by scientists like Rick Strassman, who suggests alien abduction-hallucination experiences might actually be interactive DNA code playbacks, which can arise naturally through neuron misfires or be triggered by DMT. The idea that the film's spaceships precede our known civilization enhances the "we are them" aspect. Dude, I'm totally tripping thinking about it all. The crystalline structures in the craft are totally storage for combined alien knowledge and codices for DNA, more intricate and powerful than human consciousness can grasp, vaster than the entirety of the internet all within just one crystal rendered in 'web'-ish sheet plastic that makes it look cheaper than the flimsiest carnival haunted house tableaux.

Like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, QUATERMASS is as marred (or enhanced depending on your Brechtian tastes) by lame special effects as it is alive with post-Roswell "truth" (as I write about here). The spaceship looks like two uninstalled hot tubs taped together and the grasshoppers look like beatnik sculptures that would be right at home with Dick Miller's "Dead Cat" in BUCKET OF BLOOD (1956) if not for their shoddy sickly white-green wet paint jobs; the visions of life on Mars looks suspiciously like a fussball table with grasshopper heads stuck onto the little wooden soccer players. Explosions are indicated by the wave of a sparkler in front of the camera. But I actually love this kind of cheap sideshow flimflam as it credits the audience with having a child's imagination enough to fill in all the blanks (with their own DNA-encoded projection memories). With the help of imagination we can be literally hallucinate better effects for the story --we can literally 'see' details that aren't there. When we're adults these details are dismissed as 'hallucinations.' Oh the fools!!

I vividly remember being told the story of this film by an excited, terrified kid late at night when I was around seven years old during a slumber party. He was agog with this tale of frozen insect demons on a spaceship that come alive as ghosts and then the whole world is destroyed and everyone turns evil... and... and... I thought the film sounded impressive and since he was scared talking about it I got scared too. He made it seem like the scariest thing ever made. It sounded so fantastical, I was sure he made it up, for no movie could be that cool and me not know about it. The way he made it sound I figured if I ever saw it I'd just drop dead from fear. But then decades later I finally see FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (AKA QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and, whoa! This is what that kid was telling me about... and it's still cool, but much cheaper looking than I 'remembered!'

I had imagined all sorts of shocking images: giant blue grasshopper-like monsters glistening and gleaming in their icy chambers, huge pillars of flame cracking the earth in half.... Seeing it now is to laugh heartily and also to wonder if there's not even a purpose to the almost surreal level of cheapness, a kiddie sugar-coating over a core truth too shocking to consider as fact without the accompanying option that it's fake. The official cover story about the crashed craft is that it's a German V2 left over from the Blitz. That's a good alternative truth for the panicked people, and a parallel with the theory that UFOs are experimental Nazi craft brought to the States via Operation Paperclip. People need a story like that to deflect their anxiety. If we ever saw a real flying saucer we might remember it only as a hubcap; we might remember a 'grey' as a white owl; a mantis alien as a grasshopper art project, and that's how it should be. The aliens are too horrible to imagine straight on; we need to believe it might be fake to even consider it might be real. Think of the hardcore fundamentalist conservative who dismisses global warming as liberal brainwashing! God bless their horned little heads! How much like that fiery vision of Hell on Mars will their blindness will reap!

My point: without an out, an alternate "what if," people really would panic, and the first place they'd demand answers would be the science and the military, which would then have to admit they're powerless. As they say in AA, who wants to admit complete defeat? Not us! we hide in the sand of the hourglass even as our every move is under a microscope we will never see, except FIVE MILLION YEARS from now, long after this civilization is dust in some other planet's wind... and lo, people will look to finally see the lord's big TV eye looking down from the microscope of cosmic law, but there will be no bible to remind us how to handle the grasshopper mantis devil soaking up our psychic energy, because everything will be on kindle, and thus long gone, gone as a cloud, and the lord will send Denzel, to bring the bible to us, so it is written in THE BOOK OF ELI (2010)... in CGI.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Great and Wonderful Acid Cinema: WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

If there's one national myth that still crosses over to all generations, one touchstone tale that every cathode ray tribal fire still hears tell annually, it would be THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), a film so psychedelic and genuinely scary it still throws tripping college kids into nightmare K-holes to this day, only to suck them safely back out like bizarro tornadoes with just a click of the heels and the mantra "I will come down eventually, and maybe someone will give me a Valium" i.e., "there's no place like home."

Not only are the archetypes and characters of OZ perfect fits in the Jungian archetypal blueprint of the unconscious, but in the sociological dimension, providing a story that binds generations together and gives us a structural symbolic language with which to discuss psychological issues on both a personal and societal level. Our parents and maybe even their own have been freaked out--to some degree--by the flying monkeys, loved the Cowardly Lion, feared--without question--the last bit of sand running out in the reverse hourglass. So as adults, no matter where your head's at there's a line in THE WIZARD to lend you wisdom: "Oh Auntie Em, I'm stuck in the witch's castle and I can't get home," could be the anguished cry of any girl suffering from anorexia; the witch's castle signifies the quicksand of the repressed unconscious, the terrifying surge of hormones and peer pressure that accompanies late adolescence mixed with dysmorphic body imaging (or getting into a panicky bad trip tailspin and trying to pull out of it). The way fear coheres into a being like the witch out of orange smoke, but vanishes just as fast, dissolving easily in water.

We're all on the brick road to Oz, only some of us are smart enough to know in advance that none of it is "real" per se, to doubt our own eyes and not to lose our shit and decide we need someone to drive us to the ER, which always bums everyone else out. (since we all dropped acid before the film started, let's say)

If we just keep our eyes on the yellow brick road though, and never say no to a poppy field shortcuts, we'll have a grand time and make some hairy new friends. The next day those friends might be back to being smelly farmhands and local grifters, but we can still remember the archetypal blueprint that fit so easily over them. It's easy to not like or even notice a fellow human, but no one really hates a lion or a scarecrow; when I'm all 'enlightened' and everything glows rosy (literally), everyone I see seems like a muppet, their animal and magical characteristics are enhanced so how could I not love to be near them?  It's a kind of magical overlay that fits so well over reality no one even thinks you're crazy, as long as you don't get weird about it.... And with that, too, Wizard can help.

Any good myth functions as a natural psychedelic, a breadcrumb trail through the wild wilderness, but The Wizard of Oz also functions, like 2001, as a metaphor for acid itself, i.e. the switch from black and white to vivid Technicolor remains a solid way to describe its effects to people who've never tried it.  No matter how many times we've seen the film, even knowing it's coming after dozens of viewings since childhood, that transition from black and white Kansas to Technicolor Oz is always bit of a shock, as is the 'waking up' into a psychedelic expansion of the senses, as if our usual wavelength spectrum of the visible and audible is widened to go all the way around the dial to beyond the infinite, organically so we realize we're seeing the world how it really is --it's our normal blinders-on reality that's the comforting illusion. If not for her "concussion," and tornado (set and setting). Dorothy might have spent her whole life excluded from this alternate reality, but she's here now, so needs to roll with it and not panic, not freak out and try to, say, step on or throw rocks at the munchkins, that is to treat them with curiosity and compassion rather than shooting at them, staring at them and making them feel self conscious, or screaming in terror like it's all a mad nightmare.

Though take it from me, the first time you run into 'The Lollipop Guild' (below) while traveling through the psychedelic plane is enough to give even the gutsiest inner space cowboys the heebie jeebie nightmares. They're like those little weird demon guys in the bottom corners of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (below) which scared me as a kid, when I'd deliberately skip past in my restless trawls through mom's record collection as a young tyke, and hearing Harrison's sitar on side B, was terrifying beyond any palpable physical threat. When in college I began to read the work of the pioneering psychonaut Terence McKenna on 'the machine elves' -- common mushroom and DMT hallucinations-- small, elvin beings that exist in alternate dimensions but are nonetheless real, dancing in lockstep unison the world into place like a curtain of slow motion soft shoe. When I saw them during my own travels in college (and after), they were even wearing plaid!! They had garden hoes instead of lollipops and lacked that terrible gold hair, but otherwise - good lord. Good thing I'm a drinking man. (1)

Back to the post-tornado color transition: The psychedelic journey doesn't end with the 'jump' you feel in perception as your life's film moves from black and white to color, from farmhands to machine elves, as in the film, that's merely the beginning of the trip. There would, in 'real life' (i.e. with strong set, setting and right dosage) be several comparable "jumps" after that, from color to 3-D to complete immersion, to abstraction, and to divine light, to dark terror, and even past that into divine terror or surrender total followed by serenity and then boredom as you just wish the colors would stop already because it's ten in the morning and you haven't been able to fall asleep and the colors get more and more dull and lifeless and washed out but they.... just.... won't.... stop throbbing in and out of near signification. After awhile you just pray for black and white Kansas rain to come drizzling back and wash it all away. Sooner or later, maybe noon, it finally does -- but there they are still, leering at you, the farmhands... through the window... black and white achieved at last. Ugly as ever.

But the night before, well, you watched first as the colors intensified and then took on hues and clockwork animation, a cessation of time and space leading to movements all building forward tentacle-like as if each film frame never left the screen but was just moved to the background as the next frame whizzed past, until the colors were both themselves and all other colors, and these archetypal images of civilization and humanity lay exposed in their full coincidence latticework, myriad possibilities, each movement or choice branching out in endless permutation. In the dark gray of the scarecrow's outfit you could see army fatigues and ruddy swamps, chain gangs and dirty south racism. The blackened rust streaks on the Tin Man's metal torso can seem to glisten, serpentine, alive and breathing, oxidation happening right before our dilated eyes, particles streaming off into the ether; his glistening silver face paint and fey New Yorker speaking voice place him as some glam rock queen just missing big silver-spangled platform shoes and a white powder 'oil can.' The lion is the anima mundi, the connection to the inner fire that either crushes you in bad trip paranoia or helps you find the lion heart of fearless soldiering, i.e. that which makes the hottentot so hot (for me it was always imagining a lone bull walrus bursting through arctic ice to roar at the sky with a lot Hoooaaat! sound - for some reason imagining that and tapping into that raw "I am" announcement beat back all fear).

That's the untapped archetypal potential underlying the Oz iconography; you can see traces of an Arthurian knight in the Tin Man armor, and a demon in the knight, all the way deep into your own werelion unconscious, which has--with the help of psychedelics in the right set/setting--kicked open the door to conscious reality and is running loose, drawing all over the walls with crazy markers, and every line he draws moves with a wormish squiggling life of its own.

Don't we all feel there's a pair of eyes on us, always, infusing our every waking hour with a nameless sometime barely perceptible dread that what we're doing is wrong, or 'ooooh, we're in trouble'? That's always the witch. This is Dorothy's story so the wicked witches are the guardian parents she must outwit to steal their jewels. She kills one just by 'breaking into' Oz, like finding out you took two hits of blotter acid would "kill, just kill" your mother, certificate of death and everything. The symbolic 'kill' in this case is akin to the pulling back the curtain of the great Oz. You don't kill the real mom per se, but you kill her hold over you, and your dependence on her, symbolically, and unless she's tried acid too, you just left her far, far behind on, like, the evolutionary ladder, at least so it feels at the time. You can feel her screaming in the distance, enraged you escaped, but powerless to chase you - and suddenly instead of your stomach knotting up and dragging you back to her on the psionic umbilical cord, you just laugh at how crazy she sounds, as if she's just another lunatic freak off the yellow brick road.

What makes OZ so special amongst all other kid movies isn't just the music or the set design but the seriousness and wide-eyed in-the-moment intensity with which Garland conveys childhood anxiety, and not just the unthinking misogyny of the celebration of the dead Wicked Witch of the East. "Only bad witches are ugly," declares the shallow and manipulative good witch, but the gravity of it, the naked animus-reckoning. The whole "Ding Dong the witch is dead" carries that PC shudder of patriarchal bullying, with its Satanic panic echo of lynching and all other ceremonial "keep them in their place" tactics like stoning, flogging, defenestration, other things I've too recently been traumatized by THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO to name. "You killed her so completely that we thank you very sweetly," such lyrics would be branded misogynistic in today's climate, such unrepentant glee in the death of another person--even a male--would never fly. Imagine Harry Potter brandishing the head of that snipey blonde kid on a stick and grinning with sadistic delight to the cheers of all Hogwarts? But because it's from 1939, and everyone saw it as a kid, OZ escapes unmolested by PC groupthink.

Drug analogies continue with the introduction of poppies, the lethargic sleep the poppy field creates is countered by some good witch "snow" -- i.e. "a speed-ball," which is what supposedly killed John Belushi and Jackie Superstar; and for the Tin Man, a little "oil" loosens the "joints." (the cut "Jitterbug" sequence would have been the DTs or opiate withdrawal), or maybe amyl nitrates to enhance the joy of movement.

But the main lesson of Oz transcends drugs to approach the unobtainable kernel of enjoyment that Lacan always writes about, an archetypal unconscious kingdom of Platonic ideals translated into symbolic language, where everything is "the" single thing and not a prefab copy from an endless line as it is today: the pig farmer is the lion, not "a" lion, not one of millions, and the phrase "horse of a different color" comes from this one horse right here in the Emerald City, and the lesson is to realize that all the things and people in your life are part of your archetypal mythic core, and as such should be seen as unique and sacred, not disposable and of fleeting worth. Humans are a dime a dozen if we see them that way, but if every human is THE human, if you are everyone and everything and only you in the moment are humanity, then everyone around you stops being a faceless mob of possible threats, conquests, or annoyances, and instead becomes a rich array of beautiful muppet-like human dinosaurs. We don't judge one munchkin over another. All are delightful, some are creepy, but there they are. We're just visiting. Imagine if Dorothy was in the NRA and brought her pistol and got spooked by the munchkin size and opened fire. Since she's 'open' to these new sensations she doesn't panic, and when you treat people as special unique organisms, see them as muppets or munchkins, they respond in kind.

Maybe all it takes is fearless self examination and a bump on the noggin from a tornado-driven window frame to see even the most mundane elements of your existence through the lens of the eternal. In order to reach this realm you must not see in terms of better or lesser than (i.e., "maybe we should take more, I'm not feeling anything,") for everything is perfect and mythopoetic as it is; the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth; have you the courage to take off your red shoes and soak in it? Stop wishing for a richer tin man, a braver lion, a smarter scarecrow, a better cut of poppy, you are already on the yellow brick road, the one that leads beyond duality and post-modern malaise.

Thus, every time you watch the WIZARD OF OZ can be the first time, a rebirth, a baptism.


For me, as a child suffering through dull holidays, the WIZARD was the one thing that brought all the cocktail drinking parents and sugar-addled kids together at the same time, after dinner, to watch, once again, enraptured and connecting. It was our big bonding moment and I can still taste those dark sips of adults' gin and tonics and Whiskey Sours (we kids were allowed to make them for the parents); I can still feel that sense of belonging and import, the smell of other parents' couches, dog hair, turkey and cranberry, the terrible fear of the witch and her minions leaking through even with all this safety. I was bored stiff by football, but this was real magic, as important as ceremonial fire ritual and storytelling in ancient Aboriginal or indigenous cultures.

Of course, we were all scared of the witch. Young and old, the parents remembered then as we do now, being scared as kids by the flying monkeys -- so were were all freaked out, the way a whole tribe in the jungle might listen to the same story of their tribe's creation every full moon around the ceremonial fire, bonded in their fears and hopes, or all shudder from the same howl in the brush. That's why each trip to Oz is as exciting as the first, because everyone watching is 'in the moment' together. We might have no family in common, never have lived in the same place at the same time, but OZ memories bind us as a tribe. That unity is harder and harder to achieve with every new model of iPhone; each kid is liable to get lost in his own private movie the minute the first commercial rolls around. When you can watch OZ over and over on your cell phone, alone, you've lost something. You've inherited the whole world at your fingertips, but just made it small. Not that I don't love having OZ on Blu-ray. Aye, 'tis a devil's bargain which makes distracted hermits of us all.

Viewing the film today, it's more than anything the emotional intensity Judy Garland brings to Dorothy that separates it from today's kid-oriented fantasies. One incredibly intense moment occurs in the witch's castle shortly after Dorothy is abducted by those damned monkeys. The witch uses Toto as leverage to get the slippers, threatening to drown him. When Toto escapes, Dorothy tearfully notes: "He got away! He got away!" Her total devastation is turned into a flicker of hope and love for a dog. As a kid you resonate so strongly with that moment; you feel such trapped helpless despair in her voice, and the thought that at least her dog's escaped is such a beautiful straw to clutch, such a relief even as she prepares to face death. It's amazing that she's never threatened exactly (who knows what was going to happen after that hourglass ran out?) and yet it's twice as terrifying as movies these days that ladle on violence and torture.

A good drug trip is also a spiritual one, a triumph that opens our castle doors to admit new thoughts and feelings. Our escape from the witch's castle is a celebration of  smarts, heart and courage. The mantra 'there's no place like home'  is what the monks of the OZ ashram teach: deep meditation does the hat trick of taking you to Oz, but not bringing the old you along on the trip; the split between you and you; what part of you stays behind when you pass through the heavenly gates? The ego, of course, and without the ego you're not separate from the chair you sit on, the air you breathe or the people next to you.  Unless you have followers to do your own laundry, egolessness is a place to visit not to stay, but of course when returning to Kansas you can bring some of the color back with you to share in art, sermons or say, a gonzo-esque movie blog. Let's not forget that, back in Kansas, though the tornado seems to have distracted the real life witch for the moment, soon she'll be back for that dog -- unless the tornado killed her. It's not really mentioned. As in SHERLOCK JR, the problems of the real are solved while the subject is in the realm of the imaginary/symbolic. Maybe.

THE WIZARD as Ultimate Siginifier

The wizard also fits the Lacanian model of the "Nom/non du pere" - a figurehead who portrays great strength and mystery, the ultimate signifier, i.e. he embodies the "one who knows", who challenges and forbids. He may not actually know anything of value except one essential thing: "when they get what they want, they never want it again" - and thus it is "not how much you love, but how much you are loved by others." He's really referring to himself, because he has no real power yet his lack of, his emptiness is a favor to his children or visitors, for he shows that all patriarchal power is contingent upon our belief in that power. He admits he's a bad wizard, but he's the best in Oz because he realized they needed a figure who would at least provide an ultimate signifier. He works the smoke and mirrors to keep the whole thing afloat - and he plays every part of the charade.

Thus, in being exposed, el Wizardo has no choice but to admit he's a fraud and has no way to help Dorothy or her three companions with their imaginary problems. What he ingeniously does however is carry the Non over into the nom du pere, and thus he 'names' the subjects as having already attained these values. He rewrites their conceptions of their own history, pointing out they earned these gifts through their courage, resourcefulness and bravery in the tasks ascribed, by their doing of them. His role as the ultimate signifier, then, is to carry them over the blank spot in the circle--the objet petit a--and place them safely down on the other side. The tokens of this trial--medal, pocket watch, and diploma--assure the subjects the tasks were completed and "they are that" and they have in these items the entrance tokens into the subway of the social order.

This is why the keepsake from an absent lover, a diploma, the graduation ceremony, the wedding photo album, are important for continuing the illusion that "shit happened." Alas, in the days of email all this is more virtual and thus robbed of its mythic personal power, leaving you weak and with baggy eyes from looking too long ascreen.  For lovers, the pressed flower, sent in a letter dabbed with tears and perfume, a half a heart gold chain, a yearbook photo with a sexy signature on the back, all give way to torrid 300 page emails and endless pictures but nothing tangible...nothing will remain once the electricity goes out and the bombs start falling.

Not satin... 
A "near death" experience or acid trip can sometimes knock you into enlightenment, make you appreciate all of life and sing the praises of the banal, but then what? After a few months or years, is Dorothy still going to remember her Oz visit? Really, she should have been allowed to keep one souvenir from OZ, some representation of the unassimilable remainder-- the ruby slippers, ideally. They should have returned with her to Kansas, and remained red, even after the black and white resumed, the same red of the little girl's coat in SCHINDLER'S LIST, or the blood in THE TINGLER, or the color explosion with the gun at the end of SPELLBOUND, or the arrival of color slow and sure into PLEASANTVILLE's black and white conformity.

Failing that, Dorothy would maybe later buy some acid while enrolled at Kansas City University and when she'd see that it's red and sparkly--"ruby" acid--she'd know the score. Open up the Emerald City, baby. Dorothy's coming back with dilated pupils. But Oz can be accessed only with total devotion to the inner Angora-wearing Glenda the Good Witch. One must become pure love, a vessel stripped bare of all traces of ego and judgment. In other words, to see God you have but to blind yourself with the sun or leap from a cliff, or have perfect faith, like Bella in NEW MOON!

When I was in college I wrote two Oz related stories: one was about an old homeless schizophrenic Dorothy hallucinating scarecrows--her ruby slippers in a shoe box at the bottom of her trash-filled shopping cart--slowly bleeding to death after being robbed and beaten by a gang of flying monkey hooligans; she lies dying in the gutter, saying there's no place like home and seeing the Emerald City open up before her... for keeps.

The other had the younger Dorothy stopping along the yellow brick road for every needy creature that asked for change (literally), until she had an army, a million strong, marching towards the Emerald City like a flood of refugees. Naturally the wizard won't let them in, so they riot, the golden walls of Oz are graffiti-strewn and rock-damaged. They then retreat out into the poppy fields and form a shanty town. Addiction runs rampant and soon the poppies are all picked and the fields are barren and they're all shivering with opiate withdrawal. Dorothy's mob of needy anthropomorphic beings must steal everything in Oz not nailed down and hock it for the good fairy dust the witch sells out back of the orchard, because the crops the scarecrows left behind when following Dorothy have all been eaten up by crows. Dorothy gets disillusioned and hides out down in Munchkinland, crying in the ruins of her fallen house, searching the cupboards for one more angry fix...

That's Dorothy, smart to the end. All sensible prophets always escape--usually into death, thorazine and a strait-jacket, or (what happened to me) a bad week-long fever that leaves their purity of purpose in ruins --before their followers get too needy and devour them whole; her straw man will come down off his dusted cross eventually, back into her black and white dorm room bed, with a thud, all apologetic and hungover, but until then he's Technicolor dreamcoat king of the forrrressst! and only his fried retinas and arthritic wrists are left behind as he heads off to fight in World War Wii, the mast to wave... courage.

PS - 9/18 - Thus even as a stoner college kid I found the living link wherein magic, Eastern mysticism and Western paranoia, magic and Oz, are all linked. When I learned that the Monarch 7 program used Oz imagery during their hypnotic programming, I wasn't a bit surprised. But in thinking about it, I also wonder where the line between hypnotic programming and mythic archetypal psychology intersect. Saying the iconography of Oz is used in a ritual that is itself possibly fiction, makes it the definition of myth (in my mind), 'possibly fiction' or a reflection of some truth so large normal reality cannot encompass it, and in this case meta-myth. For in sooth, I saw the machine elves before I'd read up on Monarch 7. I was only read up on Terence McKenna, and of course been programmed myself via annual family viewings of OZ like so many millions of others. OMG - Is this how the CIA put us all under mind control? And those elves are CIA programmers writing our code into existence? 

See what I mean - start connecting random dots and pretty soon you've drawn yourself into quite a vortex. 

Sunday, July 04, 2010

A Star-Spangled Salute to America's most Acidemic Cinematic Women

My whole life changed--from nerdy punk to liberated hippy--sophomore year, 1986, when I met Sabrina and Kelly (not their real names), two gorgeous blond, LSD-quaffng, dope smoking, rock star-chasing maniacs who were (me coming from central NJ) the most beautiful and non-stuck-up-about-it girls I'd ever seen. I fell madly in love with both of them, platonically, which was good since they ruined soccer players right and left and a steady stream of hot guys paraded through our lives, looking sad and dejected and sitting in a table across the bar from our long back row at Chuck's (in Syracuse, NY), while I always sat in the center of their universe, never paying for a single pitcher. But I learned so very much from them and had my feminine ideals jacked to the moon.

For instance: watching Kelly wake up in my friend Max's bed in the dorms (for we would congregate in his room for morning/afternoon bong hits), she would stretch and yawn like a cat and, and as the morning sun streamed through the windows, take a massive cannonball (which was our name for when you take a huge gravity bong hit, slam a cold beer funnel, then exhale the hit), smile sweetly, and pick up her acoustic guitar and purr out a gorgeous suite of Joni Mitchell songs, as relaxed and gently focused as if she'd merely had a nibble of honey-covered toast and a sip of herbal tea, not even a single belch...the morning sun shining through her golden locks, her voice sweet and high singing "I want to shampoo you / I want to renew you again and again." Flowers in her hair like the Andalusian girls used. And I'd think yes my mountain flower, yes I will... And I felt, for the first time in my life, connected and accepted by people I actually wanted to be accepted by... The star children Eloi of Connecticut were raising my soul up out of Morlock, New Jersey. 

I love these girls still, though both have since both have married with kids and all that stuff and I see them only once every few years, if ever. But I've found mirrors of these girls in cinema, and for the July 4th holiday, what could be better than to salute cinema's most acidemic American gals, the girls who make me think of Kelly and Sabrina (not their real names)?! If not for them, this blog wouldn't exist, at least not in this form.

The definition of an acidemic woman: she never judges or condemns but seeks a good time with tenacity, rolls with life's punches, lives on the edge of her own forward momentum; never stopping to 'settle down' according to bourgeoisie mandates, these women have limited but undeniable telepathic ability. They've assumed an archetypal resonance that makes them transcend duality. They're afraid of nothing, not even of dying young or winding up in rehab. They may destroy themselves on the altar of decadence or sell-out to the suburban exhaust pipe dream, but who am I to judge? They once burned so very brightly, and sometimes once is enough.

In originally doing this list I noticed more than 3/4 of the most obviously Acidemic women were from Europe--especially Germany and England. Since it's the Fourth of July, I tailored the list back to just being aus der Amerikanische fraulienin und Filmen!  I had to disqualify Anita Pallenberg. I had to disqualify Diana Rigg and Glenda Jackson. Also disqualified: femme fatale types who kill or seduce men into killing mainly for revenge or profit, as this counters the basic benevolence of the true Acidemic lady. A femme fatale schemes to get somewhere at the cost of those around her - an Acidemic woman is already somewhere, and brings us along--if we ask real nice, and bring her a beer ball and some hash.

Here we go,

Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammell in BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
 We all remembered and dug Sharon Stone as Arnold's hot murderous wife in TOTAL RECALL, and our suspicions of her genius were confirmed for Verhoeven's follow-up, this kinky explosion of noir and late night Cinemax trappings into the realms that dwells above camp and below high art. Stone's Trammell is apparently Lecter-level smart thanks to a "Bachelor's in Psychology," so you know this is the liberal arts major's version of Fantasia. Stone even manages a straight face telling the cops lines like "I enjoyed fucking him," and smiles beautifully to herself at all the things she's not saying to Michael Douglas, no doubt bon mots even more cutting than her ice pick, because she likes "jagged edges." What could be more American than a ballsy character like Trammell? If she was French you wouldn't even notice how cool she is but as an American she's "cracked it wide open." She derails the whole film and then snorts the rails. 

Angelina Jolie as Lisa Rowe in GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999)
That she rides her own strait-jacket insanity like a surfer too cool to admit that being sucked under half the time is slowly choking the soul right out of her is part of what makes Jolie's character not only cool and tragic, but realistic. I dated a chick just like that and though she almost killed me, I still wish her well. In a 2008 entry I compared Jolie's character to Johnny Boy (De Niro) in MEAN STREETS about whom Pauline Kael wrote:
"His madness isn't explained (fortunately, since explaining madness is the most limiting and generally least convincing thing a movie can do). When you're growing up, if you know someone crazy daring and half-admirable (and most of us do), you don't wonder how the beautiful nut got that way; he seems to spring up full-blown and whirling, and you watch the fireworks and feel crummily cautious in your sanity." (more)
Crummily cautious, man. Pauline Kael knew the score... and Jolie, Jolie Jolie, Please don't take yourself away from our pop movie screens just to have kids and Oscars. 

Edie Sedgwick as herself in CIAO, MANHATTAN! (1972)

You could argue she's kind of tragic here, but just look at Edie, slamming vodka with her cute rabbit headphones on, living in the bottom of an empty pool in the back of her family mansion, now gone largely gardens grey. Why should she bother to be coherent when she's already 'made it' to the other side? The film itself is kind of a mishmash between this new footage--great when she's there, wretched when she's not--and earlier black and white Warhol reels of Sedgwick and her friend waking up in some strange guy's apartment, stealing his stash ("Look at all these drugs!") and hitting the streets, heading to the factory for random footage of Brigit Polk babbling about how her fat thighs are just right for popping speed. Sure, Edie's a tragic, cautionary tale --but what should she have done instead, get old and have kids like a workaday punter?

Lori Williams in FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL KILL! (1967)

Of the three strip club motorists in Russ Meyer's ingenious (strangely nudity-free) sexploitation "car club" film, Lori Williams is the one you most want to bring home to mom. The other two --Tura Satana and Haji--are kind of creepy Goth butch (and I mean that as a high compliment, as you know), you step between those two coded lesbians and you get a tire chain across your back, so for fantasies of driving off into the sunset to the Bostweeds, Lori is your girl. The other two girls are bad, "like a velvet glove cast in iron, and like the gas chamber." Lori on the other hand is just out looking for kicks. She rolls with Varla (Satana) and Rosie (Haji) because they're the most dangerous company in town but she's not really evil. Once she finds a big muscly moron and his Cutty Sark-swilling pappy "sitting on piles of loot," she promptly begins seducing the one ("I don't know what you're trainin' for, but as far as I'm concerned... you're ready.") and guzzling the liquor of the other ("Let's drink to trains!"), concluding her one-girl party with the immortal lines, addressed to her terrified kidnap victim: "You know what Tiny Tim? When I have too much of this stuff, it's been known to be passin' out time. And it's just about passin' out time!" Come on son, let's take her in the house.

Natasha Henstridge as Lt. Melanie Ballard in GHOSTS OF MARS (2000)

In pre-modern cultures, the approximate age of motherhood would be the age of the babysitter today, and just as (SPOILER ALERT) Michael Meyers is revealed to be Jamie Lee Curtis' brother in the TV extended version of Carpenter's Halloween, just as Norman Bates turns out to be his own mother in Psycho, or Ripley gives birth to herself in the Alien series, surely if there was time in a theatrical-release Carpenter film for big psychological twists, Melanie would realize she is the mother of the Martian spores she rejects, probably via another flashback. As it is, we must hunt for clues, such as when Big Daddy Mars is able to sense Melanie watching him from beyond a hill with binoculars. He stops, turns to look in her direction with a sudden sneaking recognition, and then leads his gang towards her with all the ferocity of a rejected child can muster.

Another clue is when she actually does become possessed by a Martian spore and is left outside to turn into a ghost of Mars by Desolation and Jericho (note that they can't kill her outright, instead this becomes their non-dwarf version of putting Snow White in a glass case.) Jericho doses her with a hit of clear (a psychedelic drug on Mars) from her stash to "fuck with anything that's in there," i.e. the rock and roll Aldous Huxleyan last rite. With the help of this "spirit guide," rather than become possessed by the Martian intelligences, she has a vision of ancient Martian civilization, where Big Daddy Mars is conducting a massive rally of his army, generating cheers and hooplah. The drugged Melanie witnessing all this from outside their time, becomes their holy virgin "Big Other" for whom such ceremonies and rallies are conducted (perhaps Big Daddy Mars 'remembers' the feeling of this Big [m]Other's gaze from the aeons ago when he held that rally, which is why he can sense her looking at him?). ( Acidemic 2003 )

2. Michelle Pfeiffer in WHITE OLEANDER Hot mom kills a (Ezterhas stand-in) boyfriend and later drives her daughter’s step mom to suicide with just a few well placed words, all from the cozy confines of her prison, a bit like a female Hannibal Lecter. In one of her giddy pieces of praise for this pic, Kim Morgan writes:
“We’re not like that. We’re the Vikings,” says sociopathic blonde mother Michelle Pfeiffer to her crying teenage daughter Alison Lohman in White Oleander. One of cinema’s great blonde-semble pieces, this melodrama is supposed to be, in part, about the foster-care system, but Oleander really shows the varied, sometimes insane incarnations of blonde womanhood. (read full article here.)
Fay Adler as Miss "Pygmy" Allen - MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940)
My buddy Max and I did a lot of drinking to WC Fields movies in the early 90s. CHICKADEE isn't the best by a long shot of Fields' oeuvre (or co-star Mae West's for that matter --they don't play very well together) but it has its moments, such as a barroom scene wherein Fields runs into a pint-sized drunk billed in the credits as Miss "Pygmy" Allen. She only has one scene with Fields--who is tending bar--wherein she asks, slurring, if her husband had been in. Fields replies he doesn't know who he is and she cuts him off, slurring out: "Ah, I don't care..." then launches into a drunken speech about how the worst woman is too good for the best of men, knocking over some drinks in the process. Fields orders her to a table (an old rule from the days when free-roaming prostitutes would try and steal johns from the bar's in-house girls) and she finally says "okay, you big tomboy!" Then Fields' perma-frowned old man co-bartender walks up during all this and asks, "Where's the funnel?" Max and I loved that --- so random -- a question we asked ourselves all the time in college, when funneling was the only way to drink enough cheap beer (all we could afford) to get a proper buzz (remember when Kelly did those gravity-funnel-exhale-Joni Mitchell songs?). Somehow or other this amazing chick Fay Adler was only in one other film, Fields' next picture, The BANK DICK. But Fields should have married her instead of Mae West in CHICKADEE and they would be like a lot the happily dysfunctionally drunken parents of people I know!

Pamela Sue Martin in THE LADY IN RED (1979)
I love you, Pamela Sue Martin! I discovered this Roger Corman's New World gem randomly on late night cable and never stopped loving it. Martin plays the girl who was with Dillinger the night of the Biograph assassination, but who didn't rat him out, goddamnit --it was her madame, facing deportation unless she played ball. Thanks to a witty, Feminist-Communist-Anarchist script by John Sayles, Martin makes all the Corman/Depression-era gangland stops--from exploited farm girl to sweatshop rioter to prison inmate to prostitute to vengeance-minded bankrobber, and rolls with the punches every step of the way. And man, is she cute, and tough.

Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN (1933)
Seventeen words: "All right, will you please bring me five more martinis, Leo? and line them up right here." Yeah, throughout the marriage-embattled Hollywood years of 1929-2009, there was one woman any man would knock off a bank to wed: Myrna Loy in THE THIN MAN. As the series progressed, the code frilled her out a bit, but in this first film she's a sexy, indulgent, compassionate, witty, never jealous or judgmental heiress, with a brilliant dog, Asta and the willingness to match her alcoholic husband drink for drink, until the ends of time. Yes, they wake up in the middle of the night to have drinks; yes they drink in the morning and yes they drink in between but you're only immortal once, so make it count, and they did.

Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

 Much as I love the ingenious scripts of Hollywood's misanthrope "it"-boy, Charle Kaufman, I wish he'd make his lead characters just a hair less despicable. A rare example of how great his characters could be when such less a hair is found in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. As the foxy new employee at hairy puppeteer-slacker John Cusak's new half-floor office, Keener blazes through the dimness in a shockingly cool white dress, calls Cusak "Craiggy" and treats him like a cat treats a drunken, amorous mouse. Keener manages to get everyone in the cast in love with her while never committing to anyone or anything, just coasting on a groove, wittily presuming everyone wants to sleep with her (and they do)... and drinking at the Stuck Pig with a sense of comfort in her own merriment that's seldom been seen since.

Clara Bow as Nasa Springer in CALL HER SAVAGE (1933)

The weird trippy energy of Bow is ahead of even our time today -- she moves from emotion to emotion in the same “totally there” way as someone would on psychedelics, but she’s like that all the time. She’s one of those in-the-moment bad influence trouble girls who you meet and within five minutes are broke but ready follow her penniless and barefoot into the desert, and come weeks back later, even broker, drug addicted, insane from syphilis and announce: “I regret nothing!” Don’t you regret either, pilgrim!  She goes around acting like John Belushi–she can smash a good guitar–in Animal House and just seeing her wrestle with a big dog or whip a half-breed (above) is enough to change your life forever, but when she tussles with Thelma Todd? You will want to gouge out your eyes and keep them on the mantle, cuz you know it will never be that good again. (BLAD/09)

So that's the list. Happy Fourth! xoxoxo
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